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About those letters to the editor …

From your community newspaper’s standpoint, opinions are the most incendiary topic in our daily editions.

As in Letters to the Editor.

We find that many of our readers equate a letter writer’s individual opinions to the newspaper’s opinions.

That’s not the case.

Oh, that’s not to say the “Our View” editorials we write do not, at times, mirror individual letters writer’s opinions.

But our Letters to the Editor are published in a public forum on and in the printed and online editions as submitted to us by people who read the newspaper and want to express their views, while at the same time being accountable by having their names attached to their opinions.

And if you call putting a notice in the daily editions asking people to submit a letter, we are guilty.

But, contrary to the accusations of some people who call me, we do not actively solicit letters to the editor on any topics.

We are confident our readers are passionate and want to speak up. We are honored they choose us to express those opinions. Indeed, we commend individual letter writer’s acts of accountability because that’s not the case, most of the time, on social media channels, where you can read caustic opinions from some people who do not have the courage to identify themselves.

I came into the office on a recent day to a voice mail from a reader deriding the newspaper for “those opinions.”

The caller complained as though the newspaper was in cahoots with a group of letter writers. (Again, that is neither a fair nor an accurate accusation.)

“Today’s editorial page was more than we could bear,” she started out. “It was so anti-Trump that it made us sick. I say (the newspaper) is heading in the wrong direction. We just may quit our subscription.”

I checked that day’s opinion page and she was referring to several letters to the editor criticizing our former president.

I’ve been asked this question a few times recently: Should the newspaper generally reflect the opinions of a majority of its readers?

My answer: Yes … with this caveat: We reserve the right to state what we believe, just as our letter writers do. And the basis for what we believe starts with common sense, responsibility, accountability and what’s right and fair. We certainly concede people have different views of what’s right and fair.

But I submit that the Express’ “Our View” editorials do reflect a majority of readers’ opinions. If they don’t, we hear about. Yet, “Our Views” are frequently validated by the correspondence we receive from readers, civic and elected leaders.

Look, we respect all reasonable opinion, period. And we think the need for people to be accountable for what they say is more important than ever.

Plus, we are honored to facilitate information and opinion from our elected lawmakers to their constituents — our readers.

That is a responsibility we do not take lightly, just as we work to facilitate information and opinions from the political challengers of office-holders come election time.

As for letters to the editor, we support and defend the expression of individual opinions, so long as they are reasonable and do not — I repeat, do not — accuse people of crimes or spew misleading information or hearsay.

You’re also reading letters to the editor in your community newspaper that are submitted by people whose home addresses aren’t the local area.

Are we to deny publication of a letter from, for example, someone who may not buy our printed edition but frequents/buys our online edition?

No. And we have thousands of online readers every day who do not live in our region. That’s why it’s called the World Wide Web.

Keep in mind, the 12th Congressional District of Pennsyvlania — our region — encompasses a massive geographical area of Pennsylvania, basically from Great Bend in Susquehanna County to just north of Carlisle, and from Tuscarora State Forest south of Lewistown to just west of Shamokin.

We receive and publish letters from voters in those areas because their opinions involve the 12th Congressional District representative.

I think we can all agree that, in today’s world, many people believe their opinions are facts. It’s just where social media, the internet and what I’ll politely call a “much more passionate electorate” has taken us.

I hope this sheds a little light on our practices here at your community newspaper. We try and want to be an open forum for news, information AND opinion.

The more reasonable opinions we all read, perhaps the more common ground we can find.

Bob Rolley is publisher of The (Lock Haven) Express and Williamsport Sun-Gazette community newspapers. Email him at brolley@lockhaven.com.

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