Was local resident upstaged by ‘paid’ letter-writer?

Red Wing Republican EagleAug. 23, 2001

A reader wrote last week, denouncing the R-E for shortchanging the “honest comments of a longtime local reader” by publishing a rebuttal from an out-of-state resident – “a professional who has a vested interest, a doubtful local connection to the Red Wing community”?

The comments were directed toward the R-E’s decision to publish a response from Vikki Eggers-Mason, a public relations specialist for the BlueRibbon Coalition which represents recreationists who advocate access to public lands. She also is a former executive director of the Yellowstone (Mont.) Chamber of Commerce.

Eggers-Mason had written in response to a letter from Richard Johnson, Wacouta, that advocated banning snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park. Johnson has submitted his own rebuttal to Eggers-Mason’s comments; his letter appears elsewhere on today’s page.

Our point is not to debate the positions presented by either Johnson or Eggers-Mason. Individuals should make their own determinations based on the information presented.

But the reader’s criticism of R-E policy warrants an answer and explanation: Should the R-E give preference to letters from local readers?

The short answer is “yes” – and we do. Readers will be hard pressed to find letters on this page written by individuals outside of our readership area.

Exceptions to policy

But there are exceptions.

The R-E best fills its role as a community newspaper by giving priority to local people and events. That’s especially true on the editorial page where we routinely receive – and reject – a steady stream of “chain” letters on a variety of subjects. The number has increased noticeably with the ease of distributing letters over the Internet.

There are a couple of primary exceptions to our general policy which is to print only letters which are submitted by local residents.

  • Some letters may address a local issue but are written from individuals outside our area. We review the letters to see if they offer a perspective that is not otherwise presented on this page. That was especially true during the 1994 legislative debate over dry-cask storage at Prairie Island nuclear plant. The issue had statewide significance.
  • Some letters are written by individuals who have the credentials to respond to an issue with a certain authority. The letter written by Eggers-Mason fell into this category.

Noting writer’s perspective

Readers should know that we received a handful of letters challenging Johnson’s comments. They came from Minneapolis as well as the East and West coasts. The others were not published for the very reason that the reader raised: The editorial page gives priority to “local” comments.

We chose to publish the letter from Eggers-Mason, however, since her background indicated she has firsthand information on the points raised by Johnson. Again, we leave it to readers to decide which writer made the more compelling case.

It was also important, though, that we let readers know the perspective from which Eggers-Mason wrote. Her previous and present employment offer insight into her knowledge of the issue as well as her position on it.

The exchange among readers indeed is the lifeblood of this page. That’s why we make it easy to submit comments – whether it’s via telephone, FAX, e-mail or snail mail.

A lively discussion of issues is a keystone to a vibrant community. That’s why the letters column is dedicated primarily – but not absolutely – to comments from local readers.