This week, and for the next few weeks, the opinion section of the HT will be pretty full of — wait for it — opinions.
Giving our readers a space to share their personal views is one way we record the “first draft of history” for our community. The people who take the time to write and submit an opinion piece care passionately about their subject and do their due diligence to provide evidence they believe supports their position. Whether I agree with them or not, they earn my respect for making an effort, adhering to some rules, and being bold enough to put their name in print. It takes a lot more courage to publish your thoughts and beliefs in print than it does to tweet 280 characters or share a snarky comment on Facebook.
You might ask, what is the difference between a letter to the editor and a “guest post” or “guest column.”
Letters to the editor are generally submitted in response to something we’ve written or advertised previously. I get a few letters to the editor from people who spam email editors nationwide on various subjects, ranging from the political to the religious. If there’s no concrete local connection, I usually toss those unless they’re universally compelling and we have space that can’t be filled with something locally relevant.
Guest columns, or guest posts, come from community leaders, local or regional experts in a field, or local individuals who have contacted me directly and asked about publishing something specific. We don’t pay anyone for letters to the editor or for guest posts, in case you were wondering.
It’s important, especially in today’s highly polarized culture, to be cognizant of the difference between opinion and fact. I think much of our current frustration with “mainstream media” comes from the failure to clearly delineate the difference between opinion and fact. Filling the 24/7 airwaves with “hot air” from pundits and self-proclaimed experts, consultants and analysts is a great way to spend hours, or even days, dissecting the latest juicy story, but it’s not a great way to let folks know if they’re getting facts or just a lot of speculation, educated guesses, or unvarnished opinion.
The internet hasn’t helped. Advertising and propaganda are easier than ever to disguise as “news” stories, and there’s a plethora of “experts” online to validate our individual flavor of confirmation bias.
That said, if you don’t agree with something, you don’t have to be afraid of it or spit on it or call it names. We should be open to reviewing opposing opinions and examining information that’s presented for accuracy and truthfulness. We might find out we’ve been wrong about something, maybe for years, and that’s OK. That’s called learning and evolving and growing, and it’s an important part of being a good human.