Location, Location, Location

by Dan Ward

I don’t know Ellie Light, but I’m envious of her real estate holdings.  According to Sabrina Eaton of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Light has had “Letters to the Editor” published in newspapers all around the country, each time claiming a local address in the newspaper’s circulation area.

Variations of a recent letter written by Light ran in Pennsylvania, California, New Mexico, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, West Virginia, South Carolina and Maine, and a local address was included each time.  Her letter was supportive of President Obama, but the message is not what is important.

As someone who has written several “Letters to the Editor” himself, and advised organizations that have developed op-eds for newspapers around the state, I see two issues here.

First, of course, is whether Light provided accurate information to these newspapers.  If you live in Orlando but want to get a message across in San Francisco, you either need to create a message so strong that your residence doesn’t matter, or you need to find someone in San Francisco who shares your views and is willing to write a letter of their own.  But you need to be honest about who you are and where you live.

If you are a company looking to share a message with newspapers across the state or country, be honest about the location of the author and your plans to share the letter on a non-exclusive basis with other papers.  Some papers may choose not to run it, but that’s better than a follow-up story about your company’s lack of transparency.

The other issue is what effort, if any, the newspapers that ran Light’s letters took to confirm that she was who – and where – she claimed to be.

The Orlando Sentinel has long had a policy in which those who write Letters to the Editor provide address and telephone information, and the Sentinel often doublechecks this information before letters appear.  It’s a good policy that ensures accuracy and accountability.

Newspapers should check their sources not just on the News pages, but on Opinion as well.  Otherwise, we might as well allow the print editions to follow the Wild West path taken in the newspapers’ online message boards, where anonymity and hyperbole rule.

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