I’m relaxing my usual Opinion Page standards to present a hand-written letter I received this week. Usually, I require writers to include a full name and city of residence to be published, but the way our readers interact with the world—with New Times, with fellow opinionated citizens, with people in power—is changing.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the letter (written in cursive on green-tinted paper with a photo of a lop-eared rabbit eating flowers at the bottom):
“You are slowly but surely taking away our reasons for enjoying your paper in the first place! The letters to editors are shrinking.
“Judson Terrace and others.
“Please fix it.”
Judson—if I may call you that—I have good and bad news for you.
First, I’m glad you noticed that our opinion page has been undergoing a bit of a transformation in recent weeks. That’s on purpose.
The letters that New Times prints are loosely capped at 250 words—and I say “loosely” because I’ll often look the other way if a submission weighs in at 350 or so. Commentaries tend to run at least 600 words long. A lot of opinions end up falling through that several-hundred-word gap between the two, because sometimes writers say everything they need to say in 475 words, but they don’t want to pare a chunk of that away to make their work fit our parameters as a letter.
I’ve recently been experimenting with placing opinion pieces of various sizes in the section, which accounts for fewer letters appearing in print some weeks.
On the other end of the scale, to be totally frank, fewer usable letters seem to be coming in. What gives, Judson, is that I receive quite a bit of content from the reading public each week, but some of it is missing the required city of residence, or is anonymous, or is from someone who writes me multiple letters a week, or is inscrutable, or is an opinion based on a demonstrably false fact.
I have, however, seen more people talking about content we generate at New Times—they’re just not necessarily scrawling it longhand and sticking a stamp on it. Or even e-mailing it. Kids these days with their newfangled Facebooks and their Twitters and their Pinterests are applying their voices to those sites, where complex discussions grow organically and invite comments from people who perhaps didn’t see the original story.
Not so much on Pinterest. I actually do know what I’m talking about.
A good example of this stemmed from our May 9 issue, in which we ran a commentary—“Why the Millennials don’t like us”—by 3rd District County Supervisor Adam Hill. I didn’t hear a peep about the piece on my usual channels—no letters, no commentaries—but the Team Adam Hill Facbook page mentioned it and provided a link, which drew several responses. I jumped in fairly early and asked a few commenters whether I could re-print their words here. They agreed:
“Whitney Diaz: Perhaps I’m one of those Millennials you write so eloquently about, but politics is just exhausting to me. Especially now with social media at everyone’s fingertips. It seems that any political discussion turns critical, brutal and uncivilized, almost instantly. It doesn’t matter if it’s international or local politics. Instead of having a thoughtful conversation about a subject and coming to a middle ground, people steadfastly hold onto their beliefs and try to change everyone else’s mind to get others to think just as they do. It’s not that Millennials don’t care about the political process; we’re just disillusioned by it all. But who knows? Maybe after I turn 30, I’ll feel differently about it.”
“Kathy Kraintz: Is it really that different today than it was 20 years ago or 40 years ago as far as the youth go? There will always be those who use the ills of their elders as an excuse to rebel and/or drop out, completely ignoring all the good that goes on and good people dedicating their lives to their communities, running for office and sacrificing so much as they put their heads on the chopping block of public opinion and politics. And there will always be young people who are grateful for what those who have come before them have accomplished and understand that the only way things can get better is to drop in, not out, and respect what those who have come before them have done right, as well as see where things are not working and join in to help fix it. Innovation builds on understanding and appreciating what has been learned by those who have come before. It does not come about by disregarding and disrespecting and throwing everything away for the sake of “change” ... history repeats itself. Over and over. Nothing really new under the sun is there? The question is, will the next generation destroy or build on the best of what has come before them?”
“Chrys Barnes: Well written. My own daughter is 26, a native of SLO now living in Boston. I dearly LOVE her generation. They are smart, sensitive, and interested in lots of different kinds of people and experiences. I am very hopeful about them. I absolutely agree with the young lady above that politics are exhausting! There is no better word for it. It scares and saddens me that there is so much misplaced anger in society. The fact that we can rip each other apart online anonymously, or even in person with no consequences, is destroying rational discourse. It’s the ‘no consequence’ part that is wrecking our world and making us cynical. I believe most people are decent; yet they are frustrated and disgusted by all the self-imposed, ridiculous, nonsensical problems we are creating for ourselves politically. Our institutions and infrastructure are crumbling, and we respond by “cutting spending” so that cancer patients can’t get chemo??? I consider myself an activist, but even I can barely manage to swallow my disgust and try to stay involved. With all due respect to the great job you’ve done, Sup. Hill, we dearly need a better class of folks running for public office on all levels. But good people are turned off by the personal attacks and the mindless Kabuki that has become our government. What can be done? Hell if I know. To paraphrase Woody Allen: If Abe Lincoln came back and saw what has become of the great country he died for, he’d never stop throwing up!”
In light of all of the above, I’m working to make New Times’ opinion pages more flexible, more interactive, and more diverse. Look for a bit of redesign of this section in next week’s issue, and consider doing more than just writing a pseudonymous letter if you have something to say. Put your name on your opinion. Own it.
And if you’re talking about us somewhere we can see it—whether it’s love notes or near-death-threats—let us know. If you’re cruising around online and don’t quite feel like you have the energy to drop us an e-mail, it’d probably be easiest to drop in on our Facebook page: facebook.com/SLONewTimes.
Contact Executive Editor Ryan Miller—really, contact him!—at firstname.lastname@example.org.