The Iconoclast on The Morning News, Its Letters Policy and Democratic Dialogue

I missed this, but Fayetteville-based blogger The Iconoclast is taking issue with new additions to its letters-to-the-editor policy at The Morning News, the Stephens Media Group-owned newspaper based in northwest Arkansas:

For some time now, The Morning News has neglected the potential of its Letters to the Editor section, a source of free copy and mild amusement in most newspapers. Now it has just gotten even worse with their imposition this week of additional guidelines on letter writers to assure blandness. No business disputes nor individual disputes allowed. No political candidates or office holders can be published unless carefully reviewed by staff. No open letters to public officials. So what’s left that might motivate citizens to bother writing or reading this truncated idea of civic engagement? Odes to the banal? More letters from Jay Cole the Junior? Who was the genius that made these rules?

The Iconoclast says that by imposing these rules, the Letters section (and perhaps, by extension, the entire newspaper) is taking another step toward bland irrelevance.

(And the new Letters rules are just a part of the newspaper’s problems, according to the Iconoclast in the full post.)

Now compare the Morning News’ letters policy to that of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. According to the Arkansas Times this week, the state’s largest daily might let you say just about anything in its pages:

A racist letter made its way onto the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Voices page on Jan. 2. The letter, titled “Some changes to come,” packed just about every black stereotype you can think of into two paragraphs. The letter lamented the election of Barack Obama and claimed that the White House would soon be called the “Hip-Hop House, with all the backing of Hollywood’s hip-hop moguls.”

Meredith Oakley, the editor of the Voices page, said the letter in question was no more or less offensive than the usual fare.

“We publish most of the letters that we receive regardless of whether I agree with what the person says or not,” Oakley said. “It is my opinion that nothing is served by covering up unpopular thought or even hateful thought. We publish hateful letters all the time, we always have.”

And to think, some newspaper folks still can’t wrap their minds around some of the comments they see on blogs.

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