The arena of public opinion that is the letters to the editor section has been unusually crowded and raucous this year. Since the 2016 presidential election, newspapers across the country have seen a rise in letter volume that didn’t taper even during the holidays, as well as increasingly bitter and divided messages. Readers are calling names, arguing with other letter writers and attacking elected officials for action and inaction alike.
Much of this traffic has to do with President Donald J. Trump and his administration. Left-leaning letters dominate mailboxes. Many voices on the right, an increasing number of whom are disillusioned with Trump, are either quiet or hesitate to raise questions against him. This trend is echoed in the sentiments expressed by traditionally conservative syndicated columnists who are critical of the president, such as George Will, David Brooks and Michael Gerson.
Patterns in letters at The News & Observer have echoed these national trends. Since North Carolina has played roles in many of the year’s biggest news stories (beginning with being the second-closest race in the 2016 presidential election), readers have both criticized and praised those roles and how they define North Carolina in the context of the national stage.
There were nearly as many letters about our state legislature and senators as there were about the White House. Issues included gerrymandering, school funding and class sizes, Medicaid, Sen. Richard Burr’s job as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, North Carolina as a model for federal tax reform and judicial elections. On the latter, one letter writer quips: “Apparently Senate leader Phil Berger feels that the great unwashed out here are incapable of placing judges acceptable to the legislature behind the bench.”
Many readers were also frustrated with our senators’ lack of town halls and seemingly party-first votes on various items – there was even a Sunday Forum about it. One Forum writer laments that “in recent months they have been invisible in North Carolina.”
Speaking of Sunday Forums, the fact that the weekly themes arise organically from the topics readers write in about is a testament to the involvement of the local community in both state and national politics. North Carolinians are staying informed and making themselves heard. In a deeply “purple” state made up of many diverse viewpoints, it is especially important to hear from voices across the political spectrum.
We welcome letters that perhaps don’t represent popular opinion, and we do not withhold usable letters just because they disagree with our Editorial Board’s opinion. If you don’t see your opinion represented in the letters section, feel free to send a letter to the editor.
We at The News & Observer would like to thank our readers for their written contributions and strong engagement this year. With every letter you write, you are participating in your democracy. We reaffirm our commitment to saving space in our publication for your voices, and look forward to what you have to say about next year.
The News & Observer has some guidelines for letters, the following of which will increase the chances of your letter being published:
It is important that you include your full name, address and phone number in your letter. We sometimes contact writers to discuss their letters, and we want to make sure the letters are coming from real people. We also prefer to run letters from writers who are either local or have some connection to North Carolina.
We do not run open letters to elected officials. These kinds of letters are best sent to the elected officials themselves. Of course, you are welcome to submit letters about elected officials that do not address them directly.
We fact-check letters where applicable, so letters with their numbers and arguments straight have a better chance of making it into our letters section.
Though times are divisive and tensions run high, we ask that debate stick to the issue or action in question without veering into ad hominem territory. We tend to stay away from letters that personally attack or make unfounded allegations about their subjects – political figures, other contributors and the newspaper included.
We do not generally run letters from the same writer within 30 days of each other, so space your submissions accordingly.