The amazing digital advancements that allow news to be on your browser 24/7 and even on that digital pocket device that also makes phone calls have a tragic downside: the near extinction of what has long been known as the “letter to the editor.”
Have the voices that should be contributing to news products like The Universe been silenced by those caustic trolls that dominate comments threads trailing online news stories? Has a population that is so vocal on social media become simultaneously timid when offered a turn on the soapbox in the editorial section? Does the thought of writing something where capitalization, punctuation and grammar are needed leave an intimidating chill among a texting generation more skilled in the use of emoticons? Do we need identify “letters to the editor” as “iLetters to the webmaster via Google docs” instead?
Letter-to-the-editor contributors who used to complain they couldn’t get their point across in 250 words are now absent in a culture filled with tweets that are only 140 characters. The inbox of often has more crickets and cobwebs than feedback from our readers.
That’s sadly ironic. And disappointing.
The Universe, as an award-winning laboratory newspaper at BYU, regularly has an editorial page in its print edition and has an ongoing opinion section at universe.byu.edu. Students and professional and academic staff involved in producing The Universe do what professional news organizations do with those editorial sections: we publish an editorial point of view on newsworthy topics. We simultaneously invite our audience to add its point of view.
Editorial writing is designed to invite — even provoke — input with additional or contrasting points of view. Without that, an editorial section loses its flavor as a robust forum for thought and could reasonably be renamed the Preaching to the Choir section.
The Universe’s audience includes the vibrant populations of students, faculty and staff, alumni and others interested in BYU. I have an invitation and a challenge for our audience as a new academic year begins: Write to us.
For the hundreds of you on the faculty with valuable expertise on newsworthy topics, I encourage you to enlighten the rest of us in a 500-700 word guest editorial. For those of you on the faculty who call or email me personally when something in the news raises your blood pressure, please know that I’m happy to talk to you but would much rather have you talk to our entire audience by sending a letter to the editor to .
For those of you among the student body, be amazed that fellow BYU students come from across the country and around the world. Like the faculty, many of you share a common thread of religious faith, but from there the uniqueness of your upbringing, citizenship, ethnicity, political and other elements that make you who you are also make your voice important to The Universe. To you I extend the same invitation: If something in the news gets your motor running, send a letter to .
And if our publishing your letter still leaves you feeling somehow incomplete, feel free to tweet the online link or watch for us to link to your work on our Facebook page so your friends can “like” it. How’s that?
Steve Fidel is a career newspaper, online and broadcast journalist who has been the full-time director of The Universe since May 2012.