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Letters to the editor - a dying art and it's consequences

Over the years, I've often felt the urge to write letters to the editor. I have written them only sparingly but when I have it's enabled me to get an issue that's been bothering me off my chest in a very public way.

Although blogs and comment boards have now become the preferred means of communicating people's opinions on issues, there will always be a sentimental place in my heart for letters to the editor. Such letters are chiefly the province of mainly print-based media now but their publication still reflects a time when balanced debate was possible. After all, editorial teams on many print publications (particularly in New Zealand) have rules which ensure that people's views on all sides of an issue are presented.


And it is this need for editorial balance which ensures that letters to the editor are better moderated than many internet comment sites. The vast majority of publications which still carry letters sections also require writers to identify themselves by name (unless there is a very good reason for withholding a correspondent's details). This limits the ability of people to anonymously attack people, particularly ordinary people (i.e, especially those who are not politicians or celebrities) who bravely tell their stories to media outlets. I say this as all too often, ordinary people become the subject of media storms for simply telling about their battles for such things as, for example, welfare entitlements or housing.

Undoubtedly, one of the things about being human is that we can all be judgemental sometimes. 

Yet, when we pass judgement on others and when the media (whether it be social or mainstream media) facilitates that, it has a duty to ensure fair and balanced debate and to depersonalise things as much as possible. Of course, there will always be publications and outlets which operate ideologically-inclined editorial policies - and that's fine by me as I'm a rather ideologically-oriented person myself. Nonetheless, even the letters pages of publications, whether they be, for example, The Economist (right-wing) or The Guardian Weekly (left-wing) carry a wide variety of opinion, albeit, largely from the ideological perspectives of their readership.

Still, I have to acknowledge that with the relative decline of print media and the rise of social media, the days of penning letters to the editor might just about be over. So, as we head further into the social media age, I make this plea of all media outlets: please ensure that there is a real balance of opinion by maintaining well moderated Facebook and other comment spaces. Above all, please ensure that comments are not opened up on stories about ordinary people facing vulnerable situations or making claims about discrimination, prejudice or harassment. Otherwise, apart from politicians and celebrities, ordinary people will become more reticent about sharing their experiences with media which can often be the only way they get heard by those in power when all else has failed.

That's why in a commentary filled age, every media outlet has a responsibility to ensure fair, open and responsible debate.