Friday, June 24, 2005

Our six-year-old daughter, who already knows how to read a few hundred words in Dutch ( Hebrew she reads fluently ), was excited when she managed to spell out her father's name and the name of the city where we live in this morning's IHT Letters to the Editor section. From my own experience I know that it does not take much besides some luck to get a letter published, but still, knowing that the IHT is published all over the world gets me a little excited too when I see that a letter was printed. One letter in today's IHT deals with a subject that is similar to the one that I wrote about, in a different part of the world. Africa's corruption Jeffrey Sachs blames the United States in large part for Africa's problems ("Africa's future is threatened by U.S. neglect," Views, June 15) but fails to address the fundamental issue: corruption. When someone finally figures out how to get aid money to the actual citizens of an African country, instead of in the pockets of corrupt government officials, Africa's poverty will be reduced. Sharon Stetz, Bonn
When for my research I go through periodicals that were published 50, 60 years ago, I often read the letters to the editor very carefully. In my opinion they are one of the more interesting parts of a newspaper or magazine. As one reader pointed out on this blog, in the old days one had to sit down and write a letter, put it in an envelope, write an address on the envelope, go to the post office and buy a stamp in order to have a chance of getting one's letter published. That means that in every letter that was published a lot of time and effort was invested, and one can assume that whomever wrote such letters really cared about what (s)he wrote about. Today things are much easier. In the last four years I have written more than a hundred letters to the editor, about 25 or 30% of which were published ( I estimate ). I do care much about most of the subjects that I write about, but that does not mean that I put much thought into every letter that I write and send. Nevertheless, letters to the editor are always much more serious and interesting than feedback on a newspaper's website ( not in the least because editors take some time selecting letters ), as you can see on the website of Ha'Aretz, which often contains hateful and totally irrelevant non-discussions. Since I am such a fan of letters to the editor, I would very much appreciate it if the English edition of Ha'Aretz published a bit more than the six or seven letters a week maximum that you can find there. It seems that I am not the only one. In today's Ha'Aretz a reader from Haifa expresses similar views. Rethinking feedback Regarding "The Trouble with Talkback," Ha'Aretz, June 21 It is right and just that a newspaper, in print or electronic format, provide a means for readers to respond. Ever since free press newspapers in their present format were first published at the end of the 19th century, there have been letter pages. My American family has a long tradition of writing letters to local newspapers. When I started reading Israeli newspapers, I was surprised to find little or no published letters to the editor, which I do feel encourage a vibrant culture of a free and democratic press.However, I feel the feedback responses to opinion articles are completely the wrong approach. Most of what is written are terse comments and create a forum for hate and anger, not insightful responses to daily issues. There are plenty of forums available on the Internet to facilitate the level of conversation found in the feedback responses, andHaaretz is not creating anything new with their own.My own hometown newspaper, The San Jose Mercury News, published from three to five insightful letters a day. Some of them were from well-known members of the community, and sometimes gave a chance for those highlighted in the regular news articles to give a personal response to issues that touched the daily lives of the San Jose area's one million residents. There was also a Silver Pen award for outstanding letters from readers.I think that a letters section is a better facility for reader response. It would be the responsibility of the newspaper's editors to select those it found worthy of publication. Although some may suggest that publishing selected letters may be undemocratic, I trust the editorial staff of Haaretz to be fair and equal in the letters it would select. Also, since the online format doesn't present space limitations, there should not be a limit of five or ten letters, but rather allowance for all those worthy of publication. David Baird, Haifa

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