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Why do the newspapers bother with a “Letters to the Editor” section? Generally, they don’t announce an imminent disaster. They don’t praise a record high school sports score. They don’t bring us up to date on a community event or national event. They don’t (or shouldn’t) advertise for profit.

They print them because they allow their neighbors to share their beliefs, their opinions both political and personal and their hopes and dreams for the future. To discerning readers and writers, letters should provide an opportunity for the writer to accurately and truthfully expound on and explain their point of view or to support or criticize current local or national political, social and other real-world issues in addition to those of other writers. Writers should, for the intelligent, open minded reader, provide the opportunity to read and, putting aside their emotions or bias, consider another point of view.

What do the newspapers, for-profit businesses, get out of this? They don’t get paid for the space but they do generate attention. They proffer views that may be in direct opposition to those of paying advertisers. Unfortunately these advertisers can openly or clandestinely paint the newspaper as “pro” something or “against” something else leaving the impression, without justification, that the newspaper itself is biased. How do newspapers benefit? The letters generate interest in the paper.

So, what are the newspaper’s responsibilities toward these letters, their writers and readers and subscribers in general? Given that letters are not received equally over the week, nor are the ones received balanced by point of view, and that it is impossible to print all nor even a balance of views day to day, it should be the newspaper’s goal to print those that reflect the overall community opinion, and print as many as possible. Reject those containing profanity, exaggeration, lies, any data presented without back-up, emotional rants and vicious personal attacks and provide enough space for letters long enough to fully explain and justify the topic. In this complex world, a 200-word preference is not justifiable.

What should the position of the “letters” be in the hierarchy of the “Opinion Page”? In my opinion, right after a local editorial and before that sourced for commentary or another opinion originating from other newspapers or commentators who have no knowledge, presence or interest in the Valley.

There are two sides to every coin. So, what are the responsibilities of the writers? In short, many. Any letter purporting to support the best government and society for all the people in America should not be a “bash.” No foul language is acceptable. The word “they” should be preceded in each instance by who “they” are. Any statements containing statistics should be researched for accuracy (not just “it’s common knowledge that” or “media say that”), then followed by their source and reference date.

Please expose us to as many as you can, even the emotional rants so we can understand the consequences of our votes and decide for rationality and purpose rather than bias, hate, self-gratification and division.

Ned Sheats lives in Mission.