Off The Press

December 15, 2008

By David Hayes

Got something on your mind? Send us a letter

David Hayes Press Reporter

David Hayes Press Reporter

Studies have shown that the most-read sections of most papers in the United States are sports, the police and fire report, obituaries and letters to the editor.

I’ve just compiled our letter writers for 2008 into one handy list to run at the end of the year. We get submissions from all segments of our population, from young and old, regulars and first timers.

As of the Dec. 10 issue, we’ve published 150 different authors. The number of letters we publish made me curious about what motivates readers to send their thoughts via snail mail (yes, we still get handwritten dispatches delivered by the mailman) or instantly by e-mail.

Education is a common topic. The year kicked off Jan. 2 with a complaint that the school district was catering to plateau schools. And our most recent issue had a concern about the Passage Point development’s effects on nearby schools.It amazes me that the City Council officially voted for the no-build option for the Southeast Bypass in March, yet here we’re still getting letters last week arguing its pros and cons.

We received letters involving politics, from endorsements to citizen watchdogs keeping an eye on local, state and national leaders.

Most of the scribes were first timers. But many were repeat authors. The most prolific was Ken Sessler. The 80-year-old South Cove resident figures he’s had a subscription to the paper since his family moved here more than 30 years ago. Nary a week goes by where the editor’s inbox doesn’t have a submission from Ken. We published just 15, however. (The Press prefers local letters, so often doesn’t print those about national or international topics.)

“My wife shops in Issaquah,” Ken explained. “So, while I’m sitting waiting for her, I see or think of stuff that’s kinda a good subject. So, I write a letter to the editor.”

Ken’s concerns range far, from the increase in senior dues at the community center to the “do-nothing” Congress in Washington, D.C. He said he sees the letters page as a great way to express freedom of speech, especially when his letters generate responses from other writers. However, he asks you not revert to name-calling.

“I get upset when people get too personal,” he said. “The last guy said I was dishonest. I figure he was a liberal, so I forgive him.”

Letters can help bring light to decisions made behind closed doors, such as the slew of submissions that resulted when the school superintendent tried to change Liberty High School’s class schedule.

We try to keep topics local. But the conversation can last for weeks when a touchy subject is breeched, such as when one of our reporters criticized the Iraq war in a column. That generated weeks of back-and-forth responses.

Another prolific writer, yet only by half by Ken’s standard, was Brian Weinstein. The one-time candidate for City Council has found a place to have his voice heard in a public forum. His reason for writing so much boiled down to one word — truth.

“I think people are interested in the truth,” he said. “All of us have sunglasses on of different shades. But some of us need to have those blinders knocked off. A letter to the editor is a quick way to achieve that.”

An employee at Microsoft, Weinstein said an unfortunate result of the digital age is less dialogue among people. But, thanks to the letters to the editor page, a forum is provided to spark discussion.

“Readers look to The Issaquah Press, because they have a place to have that dialogue within their community,” he said.

Whether the topic is defending Communist China, alerting the community to the slow demise of businesses at Gilman Village or just thanking participants who made a fundraiser successful, the letters page plays its role for a diverse readership.

Even elected officials utilize the page to reinforce their message, as Mayor Ava Frisinger has done twice this year.

“The letters page is a very important part of the community forum to express ideas and opinion to reach a larger group of people than normally possible,” she said. “I read the letters page from home every week, because it gives me a good sense of what the important issues are within the community.”

So, keep those letters coming. Whether it’s development, transportation, education or politics, almost no topics are off limits. Just remember to be civil, respectful and concise. We don’t have the space to run personal manifestos, but we can fit in nice summaries.

Reach Reporter David Hayes at 392-6434, ext. 237, or dhayes@isspress.com. Comment on this column at www.issaquahpress.com.

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