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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ohio University Journalism Prof: Dear Editors, Print Anonymous Letters

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Ohio University journalism professor Bill Reader says it's time for American newspapers to scrap the practice of refusing to print unsigned letters. He says anonymous correspondents often write with clarity, passion and insight but their work is tossed into wastebaskets. He contends it is a myth that unsigned letters are sent out of malice or spite, and said editors cannot really defend as logical the hoary old policy that bans anon from their letters to the editor columns.

Reader, who used to edit letters at the Centre Daily Times in Pennsylvania before turning to academia, sees the prohibition on anonymous correspondence as a barrier to public discourse.

"Having a name doesn't change the responsibility. When I was an editor, I had people give me letters with the names that I definitely couldn't use. But I also got many letters that were brilliant from people who didn't sign their names, which I also couldn't use. There are all kinds of things we use anonymity for to get at the truth: suicide help lines, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, confession practices in the Catholic Church, closed door government meetings? Why not newspapers?"

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