We received a letter to the editor criticizing the high prices and poor service at a local food chain. The letter urges local action. Would you publish?

It’s a slippery slope to open your letters column to criticism of businesses. A couple of points on enforcing such a policy:

No. 1, the policy is a double-edged sword. If you reject the critical letters, you’ll be hard-pressed to publish the complimentary letters.

No, 2, make the distinction between public and private issues. We had a vigorous debate in our community where a grocery store was expanding and changing its franchise. The expansion included closing a road which provided a shortcut from our downtown to the bridge that crossed the river into another state. The shortcut was routinely used by emergency vehicles. The safety issue was raised at public hearings, and we allowed the debate in the letters column. However, we rejected letters critical of the change in store franchise that meant customers would now have to bag their own groceries.

As with all policies, there are exceptions. A motorist passed through town on a Sunday evening. His car broke down, and most service stations, etc., were closed. He recounted the many good Samaritans – and identified specific businesses – who helped him get on his way that evening. It was truly a “spontaneous” thank-you and was more a commentary on the goodwill of the entire community vs. specific businesses. We published the letter.

Newspapers should regularly address and explain their news operations and policies to readers. Why newspapers accept or reject letters commenting on private businesses is excellent fodder for such a column.