Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Letters are part of history

The newspaper was always a part of our household while my sister and I grew up. I routinely read our local newspaper, the Weekly Calistogan, either through at-home subscription or during visits to the Calistoga library. Newspaper clippings about us girls were preserved in photo albums.

The larger, regional newspaper, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, also regularly came to our home. This paper offered little of relevance to my immediate hometown community but it took on greater interest to me when I lived and worked in the Santa Rosa area.

While I was going to school at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University, I spent time upon the staff of each of these schools’ student newspapers. I also read the alternative press. I formerly looked forward each week to its investigative journalism but today the North Bay Bohemian mainly covers restaurants and wine.

So many papers, large and small, including our own local media: the Clear Lake Observer American and the Lake County Record-Bee.

What all of these papers have in common is that the very first page I turn to, in nearly every newspaper I read, is the opinion page. It offers an intimate, first-hand glimpse in real-time at the issues of importance that are being debated in a local community.

At the same time, these letters’ publication preserves them forever in history. They are personal impressions and experiences brought to life in the writer’s own words.

The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (www.bte.org) created a play, “Letters to the Editor,” from actual letters that appeared in one town’s paper during a period of 200 years. I remember that when I first heard about the play, I speculated about the history that our own papers’ letters will reveal.

If another theater ensemble workshop were to examine our letters to the editor, what issues will they find of most importance? How many voices will be represented?

The most egalitarian part of writing a letter to the editor is that the letters that appear in print are almost entirely self-selected, as are the priorities and opinions they express. There may be some filters in place for space restrictions or community standards, but by and large the only barrier is one that is self-imposed by choosing not to write in the first place.

Adapted from a column that was published July 29, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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