Several letters that we thought many of our readers would find offensive were published Tuesday in the Inquirer and Philly.com under the headline “Whites make Brewerytown better.” The headline accurately reflected what the lead letter writer wrote, but, as expected, many readers were offended. Why publish that type of letter? Because the conversation it evokes is exactly the goal of a letters section.
Newspapers for decades have provided a forum for readers to share opinions, so long as the comments are civil, based on fact, and neither slanderous or libelous. Those offended are given an opportunity to respond under the same guidelines.
The identities and hometowns of all letter writers appearing in the Inquirer are verified and published. With their permission, their email addresses are also published. Unlike readers who post comments online, published letter writers cannot hide in anonymity.
On our website and in the newspaper, the Brewerytown letters published Tuesday appeared within the context of the newspaper Opinion section, with a label that made it clear to readers that they didn’t convey the opinion of Philadelphia Media Network.
However, we acknowledge that the packaging of this particular set of letters didn’t work well online. When the letters were tweeted or shared on Facebook with simply the headline, “Whites make Brewerytown better,” there was no way for readers to know that these were letters to the editor.
Once we realized the mistake, we immediately took steps to remedy that by adding “Reader response” to the end of the headline for clarity. We’ll do this with all our Letters the Editor posts moving forward and continue to experiment with better ways to package all Opinion pieces online so it’s clear that the content represents the point of view of the writers and is not traditional reporting.
We hope all who were offended by the Brewerytown letters will write a publishable response. That type of discourse is the life blood of any community where people’s opinions are as diverse as they are. Criticize views you disagree with. Criticize us for publishing them. Don’t hold back. No issue can be resolved unless people talk about it. Let’s talk.
You can submit a letter to the editor for the Inquirer by emailing it to firstname.lastname@example.org or for the Daily News to Views@phillynews.com.
Harold Jackson is the Editorial Page Manager at Philadelphia Media Network.