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  • 27 Aug 2014

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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673
802-496-3928
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A question about Editors Notes

I have glanced at enough editions of The Valley Reporter to have noticed an apparently more frequent use of "Editor's Notes

, mostly in connection with the proposed water supply project. These notes are the editor's method of describing and correcting factual errors detected by the editor in the public's letters to the paper. The editor explains that the paper, consistent with "standard journalistic practice," is unwilling to "knowingly print incorrect information." On its face this standard seems sensible and responsible; in practice, it may have become a means by which readers are captive to the editor's personal biases, and worse, exposed to a form of censorship.

The qualifier "knowingly" clearly means that the editor will step in if she knows that submitted information is incorrect. This presumes that the editor has a level of knowledge of sufficient range, depth and certainty to make hers the final word over what is true and what isn't, regardless of the topic. The premise is questionable; the result troubling. There must be topics that escape the knowledge of the editor. Some letters are clearly the product of considerable study, even research. Others involve subjects that can best be described as downright arcane. Will the editor presume to evaluate correctness (aka truth) in all of these situations? Can the editor assure us that she will become as conversant with the topic at hand as the author of the letter?

Additionally, letters are often unavoidably colored with the authors' judgment, opinion or interpretation, whether subtle or overt. I cannot believe that it is a common or acceptable journalistic practice to allow a "correction" to ever touch material of this nature. Certainly the editor can retain, even report, a different point of view. But that should be reserved for the editorial column and not reflected in an editor's corrective note.

Further, I will guess that most letters are not corrected by an "Editor's Note." In the absence of a corrective note, one must assume that the letter provides factually correct information...or least correct as far as the editor knows. It is doubtful, in light of the wide range of topics, that the editor intended to bless the correctness of the contents of a letter merely by not including an "Editor's Note." Yet that is precisely the message conveyed when a letter is not followed by an "Editor's Note."

I'm going to assume that the editor is attempting to provide a benefit to the readership by offering its "Editor's Notes." After all, no one wants to be exposed to falsehoods in the paper, whether obvious or not. Nonetheless, by employing this particular device to filter public input the editor offers herself as the self-appointed arbiter of truth for every subject no matter what! We all know that just can't be. As the only meaningful show in town <MI>The Valley Reporter<D>, through its editor, may be well advised either to explain Editor's Notes more fully, use them more judiciously or look for some other, less disturbing mechanism within its journalistic toolbox to achieve its goals.

Sal Spinosa lives in Waitsfield.
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