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Pyle: Your community needs your words and ideas

By George Pyle

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jul 03 2014 05:43 pm • Last Updated Jul 03 2014 05:47 pm

"All that blathering and bloating is a kind of sacred music. It’s the clanking of democracy." — Laura Bush

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The former first lady of the United States probably always believed that. Always knew that an open marketplace of ideas, free from legal or even cultural constraints, is necessary to the functioning of a free society.

She also probably found it a lot easier to say, as she did last weekend in a speech in Provo, now that her husband has been out of office long enough that it’s harder and harder to blame everything on him.

Still. One might hope that real people expressing personal ideas on public matters could be more than just blather and bloat.

You can help us find out. You can write us more letters to the editor and, if you have some real expertise to share, more guest columns.

Tim Fitzpatrick, the Tribune’s deputy editor and editorial page editor, says, "We want to attract the state’s experts, those who are willing to explain as well as voice an opinion. And we want to hear not just from both sides but from all points on the spectrum. It is often the moderate voices that deliver the most clarity in a polarized world."

A couple of fronts have of late come together over The Salt Lake Tribune’s Opinion pages, leaving us to deal with a rather unpleasant storm.

The need to cut costs, which every newspaper is facing these days, has led us to drop our long-time contract with the prestigious, and expensive, New York Times News Service.

The service provided material to all departments of the newspaper, but was most visible on the op-ed pages, where readers would find columns from such luminaries as Paul Krugman, Gail Collins, Thomas Friedman and Nick Kristof.

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We retain a more affordable, and still diverse, line-up via The Washington Post, Slate, Bloomberg View and a couple of a la carte commentators.

Meanwhile, we are dealing with another industry-wide trend. Many people now consume their news online, often on the go. Many of those who care to talk back to the news are just hitting the comment button and venting from behind various nom de ’nets.

As a result, we don’t have either the quantity or quality of letters to The Public Forum that we would like, and that our readers deserve.

It is sad that much of the energy that used to fill our letters to the editor space has been diverted to online comments. Even though many of those expressions are thoughtful, witty and representative enough to make worthwhile reading, many more are harsh, uninformed, name-calling and downright hateful.

Letters to the editor, meanwhile, are signed by their authors and edited by the staff. They are thus much more likely to be illuminating than the firehose of dumb that too many comment boards have become.

The best Public Forum letters are short — we set a limit of 200 words — deal with a single topic of public concern and make their point in a fair enough way that the authors are proud to sign them. Ideally, they bring up a topic that hasn’t already been beaten to death.

Maybe we should publish fewer letters, being more selective in how will fill our space and your time. But that’s not much of an improvement unless it also makes room for better commentaries, mostly Utahn in origin and interest.

The best commentaries are also relatively concise — 600 words should do it — and come from folks who write not only from conviction but who also have real knowledge or experience to inform those views.

We’re at The Salt Lake Tribune, Public Forum, 90 South 400 West, Suite 700, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101. Or letters@sltrib.com .

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Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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