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Letters and commentary can enhance pubic forum role QT40

Posted by on Jan 5, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Publishing letters to the editor is another way of fulfilling student media’s forum obligations to engage audiences through journalistic responsibility.

That said, students should establish clear criteria for identifying the authors, receiving and verifying the information. Such viewpoint neutral guidelines do not violate the author’s free expression rights.

Letters to the Editor are opportunities for your community to have a voice on the pages students host. They allow community members to interact with your staff and your readers by responding to stories students have written, topics covered, or issues in the school or their world concerning them.

Guideline:

Student media should accept letters to the editor or online comments from outside the staff to solidify their status as a designated public forum where students make all final decisions of content. This allows their audience to use their voices as well. Staff should reserve the right to ask the writer to edit for grammar, length and clarity instead of editing letters for them.

Stance:

Student media should welcome letters to the editor or commentaries as ways to engage your readers and diversify the published content.

Reasoning/suggestions:  

Letters to the Editor are opportunities for your community to have a voice on the pages you host. They are usually 250 words or fewer and allow community members to interact with your staff and your readers by responding to stories you’ve written, topics you have covered, or issues in the school or their world that concern them.

Your guidelines should clearly spell out your process for accepting letters to the editor, and the editors still must maintain editorial control. Editorial control does not mean student editors do not publish something with which you disagree. In fact, students should use this opportunity to welcome differing viewpoints and voices. Making sure you have viewpoint-agnostic guidelines will help to ensure your staff makes well-informed ethical decisions regarding content.

Staff should reserve the right to ask the writer to edit for grammar, length and clarity instead of editing letters for them. Letting the authors make changes keeps the public forum status intact.

Other considerations:

  • A student editor must know the name of the author, and verify the response, even if the letter is published “name withheld by request.” False names or nicknames should not be published.
  • Each letter should be no longer than 250 words.
  • The source of emailed letters should be verified prior to publication.
  • Student staffs should strive to publish all letters received as part of the forum process.
  • Student staffs should develop a policy concerning staff member comments or letters to the editor. Such staffers have other avenues to express their opinions in their media, and this is not a common practice for commercial media.

Resources:

Star Tribune’s editorial pages

Letters to the Editor Policies

 

 

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