Monday, January 09, 2006

Letter to the editor

You know there was a time when, if someone wanted to express an opinion, they wrote to their local newspaper. Letters that were sometimes, well-informed, sometimes remarkably prejudiced, interesting, pithy, learned...people spent hours or days coming up with these letters. They needed to comment on articles in the papers. They needed to express their views of the issues du jour. They wanted to have their say.

Going through the archived copies of a newspaper in Australia as part of a research project, I would frequently stop to read the letters to the editor. That, if you like, was where the real news was. They seemed so interesting, so well thought out.

I remember my Dad (who is more Indian than he is Malaysian) spending days working on his letter-to-the-editor masterpieces. He asked me to type one out for him (this was before the advent of computers in our life - we were so retro that our typewriter was a 1920 model, I kid you not) and I was surprised at the whole Victorian feel of it. He used words like "rhodomontade" and "egalitarian". I used words like "huh?". His letters were meant for newspapers in India. When he got with the Internet age, he would click on the various websites to give his views. Except that now of course, he had to keep it simply and succint. Gone were the lingering over five syllable words, rejoicing over a particularly beautiful way of expressing something, breaking off into effusions of poetry.

Whatever happened to the letter to the editor? Yeah, I know it's still there, but have you taken a look at the crap there lately? I think it's been replaced by the blog. Now everyone is a mini-newspaper. Now everyone, from the Duke to the dustman, pontificates online. Only trouble is, for the majority of us, no one reads, no one cares. Voices crying in the wilderness...and the wilderness doesn't answer back.

Newspapers were once an organ of democracy. Issues were discussed, canvassed thoroughly, people were interested, they wanted to contribute. Now we have all this information being thrown at us, not much of which means anything, not much of which we can affect or impact, and we consider ourselves well-informed.

Trivial Pursuit. I hear you Neil.

9 comments:

goldennib said...

Despite how inundated people are with information, people do not know how to think. There is no real discernment. The only knowledge or opinions people seem to have are those they've garnered from TV. And of course, every word expressed must be weighed against all possible audiances so no one is insulted.

~Lil Nance ;> said...

I have found (at least where I live)the only opinion that the local paper wants you to have is theirs! They report only their view on a lot of subjects... and print only the letters to the editor that make them look good... there is such a grey area... Ughhhh!

Jenn said...

goldennib: I know. It's true. We read something, or see it on tv and seldom bother to question it, think about it. I get stupid forwards that purport something, and I seldom question it, unless the forwards are dumb enough to contradict themselves and slip up.

Nancy: That sucks. Are there any local online publications you could write to and contribute your opinion? Maybe there should be a rival newspaper where the people could air their views

m said...

I know. The diversity of info we have at our fingertips is nothing if we don't know how to decipher the good from the bad. We need to learn how to question things around us.

Berlinbound said...

I still write letters to the Editor now and then - when something really steams me ...

I enjoyed reading your piece here today ...

Jenn said...

Berlinbound: I'm glad that you still do. I wish more people would. It takes time to think of what to say, to formulate your arguments, to make a point. And thanks. I'm glad you did.

Jenn said...

m: Well said. Maybe we should start lettering to the editor. Looking outward.

Andy said...

I think that for all the benefits the new technologies, like email, have given us (facilitating cheap or free communication between people you otherwise would have a difficult time corresponding with), some of the drawbacks are the ones suggested in this entry: We rush our writing rather than taking the time to think about what we're going to say. Good post.

Jenn said...

Thanks Andy. It's so nice to have you back.