My media-related question of the week: At a time when whole sections of some newspapers are disappearing, why is any space devoted to publishing letters to the editor?
I used to at least glance at the LTEs, and I have written them for clients. But when they started to be nothing more than uninformed angry rants about the stupidest subjects — “I hate the new font you’re using,” “What were you thinking when you ran that story on the front page,” “Why didn’t you devote more coverage to this team,” “How dare you use that picture” — I quickly and painlessly gave up the practice.
Even if the sentiments being expressed in the letters are heartfelt and sincere, are they really so important that they need to be shared with everyone?
I supposed one reason is that letters to the editor are free content a newspaper can use to fill the space. Papers generally pay for op-eds, but they don’t typically compensate those who write the LTEs. That may make this section one of the most profitable parts of the paper.
Or maybe the editors feel that publishing LTEs shows they’re willing to take criticism from their readers, or that by giving their readers a chance to vent they won’t use the ultimate sanction of not buying the paper because they’re not happy with something. (How’s that working out?)
Or perhaps few advertisers are willing to put ads opposite editorials in fear of being associated with them and the newspapers need to find something, anything next to them.
Why not relegate all letters to editors to the online version and leave the shrinking real estate on the print pages to something that’s actually valuable?