Private business rarely public business

Brian Brady of Hayward, Calif., is an unabashed admirer of Red Wing. Don’t take our word; just read the letter to the editor elsewhere on this page.

It’s one of the rare times readers will see such a letter published in this newspaper.

It was difficult to reject the letter. Brady’s comments were genuine and extremely complimentary.

So why would we even consider withholding it? Commentary on private business – regardless of whether it’s complimentary or critical – is typically not appropriate for public debate. The R-E’s policy is consistent with that of most newspapers.

Most people would argue: What’s wrong with such letters? Shouldn’t the newspaper be a community booster?

We couldn’t agree more, but it isn’t quite that simple. If we publish favorable comments, fairness dictates that we print unfavorable comments, too.

We get our share of those. Hardly a week passes that somebody doesn’t sound off with dissatisfaction regarding a local business. The source of the complaint might be a cold meal at a restaurant. Or an unfriendly clerk. Or disagreement with a store’s return policy. Or a union’s dispute with management.

We don’t dismiss the complaints; we expect the concerns are genuine. But in most cases we suspect there are two sides to the story. We’re afraid that once we let readers enter the fray, we’d be opening this page to a quagmire.

There are exceptions. We permit comments about private companies when it concerns a public issue. For example, a comment was published Tuesday in opposition to the Super Valu expansion as it relates to closing a street. And the proposed Red Wing Mall expansion is in the news as developers seek rezoning of land and tax-increment financing.

Even then, we are careful that readers don’t stray from “public” issues.

Some times an issue with private business warrants public attention. We’ve printed two letters within the past couple of weeks regarding customer service. But readers will note that we were careful to keep the letters generic; no businesses were identified.

Indeed, it’s tough to reject letters such as Brian Brady’s. But it’s necessary in nearly every case if we are to keep a level playing field.