Tag Archives: letters-to-the-editor

Dear editor, it’s me again

Patrick Lagacé has some numbers from Influence Communication about letters to the editor, and which Quebecers get their letters published most often: Sylvio Le Blanc and Jeannot Vachon.

The study also shows The Gazette prints more letters to the editor than any other publication, and more than 60% more than the next-largest, Le Soleil. The paper prints a handful of letters every day, and last year redesigned its opinion section to give more space to letters (and less space to editorials).

UPDATE: Lagacé has a response from Vachon.

Newspaper letter credibility scores one at the Star

Last month, the Toronto Star made an interesting decision concerning so-called “user-generated content”: It decided it would no longer be publishing anonymous or pseudonymous web comments on its letters-to-the-editor page. Such “reverse publishing” is being used by a lot of newspapers who want to appear all hip and cool and stuff, and are desperate to increase traffic to their horrible websites.

The main argument, which was also expressed by many people inside the Star’s newsroom (they even circulated a petition about it), is that printing these comments alongside letters to the editor essentially creates a double standard: Letters to the editor must be signed and verified if submitted by email or mail, but don’t have to be if they’re posted in an online forum.

It’s a valid argument, but it ignores the big secret about letters to the editor: The verification process for “real” letters isn’t much of a verification process at all.

Many newspapers, especially smaller ones, don’t even check that the person whose name appears at the bottom of the letter is in fact the person who wrote it. They just copy and paste from their email inbox and assume that if there’s a full name that doesn’t read “Anita Bath”, it’s probably legitimate.

Larger newspapers, like the Star, require readers to send their phone number, and an editor or secretary calls them up and verifies their name and whether they wrote the letter. There’s no exchange of ID, no looking names up in a database, just a phone call. It works mainly because very few people are going to go through that kind of trouble just to get a fake letter into the newspaper.

Still, I think the change is a good one, if only because seeing online handles like “geeko79”, “No McCain fries for John McCain” and “Fagstein” attached to grammatically-incorrect texts in a supposedly respectable newspaper looks ridiculous.

The policy change doesn’t affect the website; people will still be able to post with silly pseudonyms there, though that’s not what public editor Kathy English would have decided:

I would prefer the Star demand real names of those who comment online. I’ve been told that’s a near-impossible expectation in the online environment. I don’t buy that.

Of course, online faces the same problem. Restrict it to verified names, and you cut off most discussion and spent lots of time verifying IDs. The more moderation controls you have, the less commentary you have and the less active the forum becomes.

(via J-Source)

Should letters to the editor be paid for?

Thursday’s Gazette features some letters to the business editor responding to last week’s inaugural Business Observer section, and particularly my opinion piece about independent video producers being exploited by big media.

One of those letters asks an interesting question (which I jokingly alluded to last week): Should letter writers be paid for their opinions?

You are asking us for our opinion on using Web content with no payment to the producer. Well, how about you guys at the Gazette? Why don’t you pay the author when you publish his opinion, or even a letter to the editor? Writing something for publication doesn’t exactly take only a few minutes of his time. An opinion piece, or letter to the editor can take the author hours of his time.

So let’s be upright about this. When The Gazette (or any publication) publishes anything, there should be automatic payment for the author.

Martin Plant, Montreal

At some point, we have to have a discussion as a society over what line exists between freelance journalism (which should be paid for) and reader interaction (which shouldn’t).

Plagiarized in your own paper — NOT

The irony is just too much.

It appears that La Presse’s letter of the week for Oct. 27, about the oversexualization of young girls, was plagiarized from quoted* a Patrick Lagacé column a month before.

As Lagacé puts it: Plagiarized in your own paper, c’est fort en ta

* The story gets better: The letter actually properly referenced Lagacé’s column. But the citation was cut from the letter before it was published, leaving only the copied text. Now Lagacé, and a copy editor somewhere in the La Presse editorial department, are eating a double serving of crow.

I’m trying not to laugh.

Take your bikes outside – the metro doesn’t want them

A letter in today’s Gazette complains about bikes being rejected in the metro. Normally, bikes are allowed outside of rush hours on the first car of every train.


Unfortunately, there are plenty of exceptions. Days when there is, to use an STMism, an “achalandage important” which prevents bikes from being used safely. And looking at the list on their website, it looks like it’s just about every day this summer.

The STM is maybe being a bit over-cautious about safety, but not as much as people may think. On Wednesday, as I took the train to see the fireworks, the human traffic was insane. Tens of thousands boarded trains (some had to be added to handle the extra load), crammed in tighter than during the peak of rush-hour, all headed to Papineau to either get on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge or the parking lot underneath it. All the escalators were set in the up direction (those going down had to use the stairs), and police were called in to handle the crowds.

Imagine having to take a bike on that.

The other concern is that allowing one person to take a bike on the train means you have to allow everyone to take their bike on the train. So events that involve bikes, like the Tour de l’Ile mean they have to ban bikes on those days too, even though other traffic is pretty close to normal. (The STM has since relented slightly on the Tour de l’Ile, allowing some stations to accept bikes but not others).

Consult the list for exact times, but as a rule of thumb don’t count on using the metro during the evening or pretty well at all on weekends until the summer festival season is over.