We’ve got letters

No letters, no readers

One of the marks of any good newspaper is its letters section. If there aren’t letters to the editor—or any substantive ones—there’s probably nothing worth reading. Or writing in about.

I love the letters section. Each week, I’m surprised by what does and does not elicit reaction from readers. You’d think it would be predictable. Often it’s not. Sometimes a seemingly innocuous story in a given week will generate a lot of letters, while something more controversial triggers little feedback.

In recent months, we’ve printed a fair number of write-ups related to the city’s straitened financial state—the unprecedented deficit that has led to sweeping layoffs and cuts to city services. Most of them are serious in tone, but every now and then a creative reader brings levity to the situation. That happened Aug. 1 with the printing of Linda Hathorn’s “City manager sing-along”—a letter criticizing City Manager Brian Nakamura to the tune of “That’s Amore.”

Even Nakamura appreciated the humor of the piece.

The letters-to-the-editor space is a great venue for people with opposing views to debate each other. Although sometimes the discussion seems like it will never end. Case in point: the recent back and forth between Stephanie Taber and Mary Galvin.

Galvin had taken Taber to task over a letter she’d penned about the results of developer Tom Fogarty’s lawsuit against the city of Chico concerning his Oak Valley subdivision. In that Aug. 22 letter, Taber noted how the suit resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars being paid out of the general fund—money that could have, say, funded police-officer positions. Taber’s point, of course, was to ding the liberal-majority council for bungling the situation (the settlement cost the city more than $10 million when factoring in court fees and losses of RDA funds).

Galvin came back the next week reminding Taber that her failed effort to move City Council elections from the November general election to the June primary cost the city of Chico $151,000 (in the form of a special election). Or as Galvin put it, “Oh, holier-than-thou Stephanie Taber, lest you forget your hand in the irresponsible spending of the city of Chico.”

The civil—albeit snarky—back-and-forth continued for a few weeks. It was pretty entertaining.

I want to thank all of our letter writers for lending their voices to our pages, and invite others to join the discussion. It’s nice to see new names in the mix.

It takes a lot of time going through—and in some cases condensing—the write-ups for the letters section. Last January, we reduced the maximum word count of each letter from 250 words to 200 words to fit more into the space. Not everyone is thrilled with the new policy, but the bigger picture is that it allows more views into the paper.

Still, there’s room for only so many letters. This week, for example, five good ones didn’t make the cut for print. They’re online only. This doesn’t make me popular with writers, but it’s certainly a good problem to have when you’re in the newspaper business. No letters, no readers.