One of our favorite responses to a survey we sent with our annual fundraising letter in October was, “I want to know what everyone is thinking.” So do we. But you have to tell us. The beginning of a new year seems like a good time to encourage letters to the editor and online comments.
We’re saying this now because 1) we have new survey results that tell us what readers want; and 2) we would like to have a better conversation among MWR readers, in print and online.
Lately, a relatively few people have dominated the comments at mennoworld.org. The problem isn’t that certain people comment often but that there aren’t more people joining in. We need more voices, and more diverse voices. Comments recently have been predominantly conservative and from men. We’re not trying to discourage these writers but to encourage the ones who’ve been underrepresented.
Online comments often outnumber letters to the editor as the leading form of reader response. We choose a few comments for print and blend the categories together in Letters & Comments on page 6. We continue to encourage letters and give them priority for inclusion in print. Send them to email@example.com or PO Box 568, Newton, KS 67114. Brevity is preferred; we usually condense longer letters to under 250 words.
Comments are handled differently online and in print. First, on the website, we accept or reject the entire comment as written. Later, those selected for print we usually condense.
A few commenters have found it hard to accept that no one has the right to post anything they want on the MWR website. Rather, we moderate the comments, rejecting those that we feel don’t contribute to constructive dialogue. These decisions can be subjective. We’re constantly evaluating where to draw the lines that allow strongly worded opinions while requiring standards of respect that make good conversation possible. As one survey respondent said, we need to maintain “standards of kindness.” We haven’t always done that well. In some cases, giving commenters wide latitude created an atmosphere that felt unwelcoming and that mirrored the nation’s polarized political climate. We’ve learned from that — and have also seen examples of excellent discussion happening at mennoworld.org and on MWR’s Facebook page.
Not everyone likes readers’ feedback, with its sometimes contentious tone. “Stop the Letters & Comments!” wrote one reader. Another finds the “endless rehashing” of certain issues tiresome. Another advised: “Delete letters on controversial subjects.”
Yet many appreciate the dialogue. One called the letters “always thought-provoking.” Another cited the value of “hearing different perspectives from a wide variety of [people].” Another observed that “listening to and challenging each other is the core of the Anabaptist understanding of the gospel in community.”
That’s what we believe, too. One purpose of editorials, opinion pieces and news is to start a conversation. Providing a forum for discussion of current events and ideas is a vital part of MWR’s mission.
San Francisco radio journalist Wes Nisker used to sign off with, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.” Letters & Comments isn’t news, exactly, but it is the part of MWR that you make. We invite you to be a part of making it good.