Randy Petersen: Letters aim to share opinions, but message can get muddled
Of all the letters we receive, a few seem to spark feedback. One — actually two — such letters have been printed recently.
The first came from Beverly Hildestad, of Rochester, who cited concerns that have been repeated since the unveiling of Destination Medical Center plans. It could be argued that the sentiment about Mayo Clinic's influence on city operations has existed since long before DMC was even a proposal.
On the surface, the letter published Nov. 8 expressed concerns that weren't too different from those expressed in these pages in the past, particularly during the recent election cycle.
The problem lies in the punctuation. The writer opted to put quotes around words attributed to Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, making it appear that he actually said the words. For those who have heard the mayor speak — which probably includes most Rochester residents — the words likely seemed out of place. They are not something the mayor would say. It would seem the writer was trying to convey the perceived message, rather than the actual words of the speaker.
Unfortunately, the writer's message became muddled with the inclusion of the quotation marks, something we at the Post-Bulletin should have considered when preparing the letter for print. We failed to make the adjustment and clarify the writer's intent. For that, we apologized to the mayor, and we do the same to our readers. You expect more clarity from us, and you deserve it.
In reaction to criticism from Mayor Brede in his Nov. 11 letter, we have vowed to be more thoughtful in what is printed on these pages.
That does not mean we won't continue to make every effort to ensure letter writers have the opportunity to share their opinions. It means we will strive to make sure the message and intent is conveyed clearly and appropriately. We routinely work with letter writers to help clarify their messages, whether it's with grammar corrections or checking on facts and word choices to make sure their messages are clear.
In the end, that is what these pages are about — sending messages.
Get in the picture
While on the topic of letters, it's worth noting the Post-Bulletin is stepping up its effort to encourage letter writers to submit photos with their letters.
There are two reasons to include a photo. First, studies show photos help draw the reader's eye to the written word. With that in mind, we want to give our letter writers every opportunity to reach as many readers as possible.
Secondly, we know photos help readers connect with writers.
While readers might not recognize the name of a writer — even if it's their neighbor — they could make a connection when they see the person's photo, and once that connection is made, things can change. Conversations start, and the words on the page seem to have added meaning.
While encouraged, the photos are not required. The decision on whether to include a photo has no impact on whether a letter is published. It's merely an option for the reader.
The ultimate goal continues to be offering the opportunity for readers to share their thoughts.
Randy Petersen is the Post-Bulletin's editorial page editor and can be reached at email@example.com.