Chip Minemyer

A reader of The Tribune-Democrat communicated, through a member of our Reader Advisory Committee, concerns about opinions shared in the Readers’ Forum.

The person said: “No balance. It may be my biased perception, but it often seems that the Readers’ Forum swings more heavily toward the right. What bothers me is that people can say anything they want, often crazy-sounding stuff, and there is no documentation of fact. People just keep perpetuating the same rhetoric.”

The editorial board does not control the “balance” you will see in letters to the editor. If a submission meets our guidelines – including verifiable accuracy – it can run.

So if we receive more letters from conservatives than liberals, then the Readers’ Forum will not be perfectly balanced.

Letters to the editor reflect the views of area residents.

Perhaps the region is more conservative than liberal. Or perhaps conservatives feel more motivated to send us their thoughts.

We do strive to provide balance among our columnists – multiple perspectives from different political positions.

And we believe our own editorials should be less about political stances (with the exception of candidate endorsements) and more about what’s best for our communities – culturally, politically, economically and in terms of local governance.

However, we do have a responsibility to hold Readers’ Forum writers to a high standard for accuracy and civility.

I don’t agree with the reader, who said that “people just accept what they read.” At least I hope that’s not the case.

The First Amendment notion of “freedom of expression” is supported by the belief that a “marketplace of ideas” – a variety of views – will guide society to the best possible decisions.

But in the age of unfettered expression on social media – where disregard for verified facts is rampant – all editors are faced with the increasingly difficult task of maintaining a quality dialogue through those letters.

Journalism is built on a foundation of credibility and honesty. We tell you where we get our information, and we must be certain that those sources are valid, and positioned to know what they’re claiming to be true.

The same standard should apply to the Editorial page – recognizing that most who write letters to the editor did not attend a journalism school.

Our regular letter writers will tell you that we ask them to provide support for their opinions – documents, web links to legitimate sites.

We reject letters if writers can’t substantiate their claims, or if they employ strategies such as name-calling and vitriol – harsh or bitter language. We ask writers to strive to make civil, professional and supported arguments.

We also insist that writers not cut and paste views they find elsewhere – that constitutes plagiarism – but that they become educated and then articulate opinions in their own words and voices.

Frequently on the Editorial page, you’ll find the basic guidelines for letters to the editor:

• The text can be no more than 250 words;

• Writers are limited to one letter every 30 days;

• Anonymous letters, form letters or correspondence addressed to others will not be published.

All letters are subject to editing. And some letters get sent back to their writers for revision, or are rejected outright.

Note: If we choose not to publish your letter, that does not constitute a violation of your rights. This is the Tribune’s Readers’ Forum – subject to our rules of engagement.

Kelly McBride, a senior vice president and ethics expert for the journalism think-tank Poynter Institute, said this concerning media content:

“One has the responsibility to vet the information that they’re putting in front of an audience.”

McBride was reacting to a planned report by Sinclair Broadcasting that would give credence to a conspiracy theory suggesting that infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci actually created COVID-19 in a laboratory and sent it to China.

“There’s no way to put information out like that responsibly because it’s so far-fetched,” she said.

Far-fetched is not uncommon in the digital world, and some of our letter-writers want to bring “crazy-sounding” arguments to our Readers’ Forum.

So it becomes the job of the editor and others on the editorial board to take steps to keep that from happening.

That reader noted: “We all have a right to our opinion.”

Yes, and the opinions you read here – beginning with mine – should be based on facts that can be verified and substantiated.

But “balance” in the Readers’ Forum?

That’s up to the community and folks who send us their letters.

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat and TribDem.com, and CNHI regional editor for Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio. He can be reached at 814-532-5091. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.

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