When I come across something I think is particularly well written or well said, or that I admire for the writer’s creative choice of words, effective syntax, and clarity of thought, I like to share them with you.
I still take home delivery of my local paper. I prefer the print edition to visiting my local paper’s website.
Call me old fashion and hopelessly twentieth century, but relaxing with the paper is what I call a nice, quiet, peaceful read, best enjoyed in my “library.”
On the printed page my eye finds few distractions. I’m not tempted to google this or click that and go off on some long odyssey, wasting an hour or two in some feverish, serendipitous quest of little value, ultimately forgettable.
Most web content I encounter on these pointless digressions passes right through me like prune juice (sorry, the reference to my “library” still lingers with me).
Unplugged, offline, and with print edition in hand, I can focus and concentrate on one thing at a time. I can chew and properly digest the news (pause while I purge my mind of all gastro-intestinal analogies. Wait! What happens if I google “gastro-intestinal analogies”? Looking up “bathroom humor” might be fun. I wonder why prune juice has that effect on me? Maybe I should google that too… Stop, Steve, STOP!).
Anyway, one section of my local paper I always read is the letters to the editor, where readers are allowed to have their say on issues of concern, from a school crossing guard publicly pleading with drivers to slow down and watch for kids to someone’s take on President Obama’s job-creation plan.
For more than 200 years, LTE was one of the few opportunities the vast majority of people had to reach a mass audience with their individual thoughts and viewpoints.
And it’s been a very narrow opportunity. Editors are the gatekeepers: they decide which letters to publish, who will be heard.
Today the tables are turned on newspaper editors. Not only do you get to read their product online for free, you can post comments to news stories as soon as they appear, you can bypass the editors to get your two cents in.
And two cents is more than a big majority of postings are worth.
With few restrictions, posters are free to rant and rave, libel and lie. Show they’re a racist, a moron, a boor, an immature jerk. That they’ve never had an original thought.
Too many posters pathetically demonstrate their limited vocabulary, can’t spell and have no clue about syntax and grammar.
And they can do it all anonymously, so no consequences. No price to pay for sharing those ugly thoughts
Some sick poster’s true identity is not associated with that cruel, racist comment to the news item I saw about a Latina grandmother who jumped off a freeway overpass, a comment I pray her grieving family never reads. Unfortunately, if they ever google that news item, they’ll see it–a stinking digital stain on the poor woman’s memory that can’t be erased.
Sitting in my library reading the print edition, I’m mercifully unaware of those anonymous posters who tag online news articles with their asinine comments.
I prefer to have my paper’s editors pick the reader comments. Their rules: no personal attacks, no obscenities, no libel, and no hiding behind anonymity.
Published letters are cleaned up, neatly typeset and appear without typos (or seldom any—editors are human, too).
I expect editors to publish letters where the author has a legitimate gripe, makes a good point, presents a sound argument, brings a fresh perspective I hadn’t considered, adds new information, or exposes an issue the newspaper hasn’t covered.
I love it when a politician is skewered by a reader–one of his or her constituents, or a good Samaritan is publicly thanked, or when charity organizers announce a successful event and express appreciation to the community. Makes me think more highly of the people where I live, forgetting for a moment the jerks I encounter daily driving around town or in the stores.
While letters to the editor in my local paper are often awkwardly written, I appreciate that someone took time to compose their thoughts as best they could. Most posters hurriedly dash off their drivel, not pausing a second to check their spelling. Writing for publication is hard work. You have to earn that space on the LTE page.
The published letter writers are just as passionate as posters, but they stand by their position by signing their name. Before publication, a responsible editor will contact the person named in the signature to see if they are really the author of the letter. (Always include your contact information when submitting a letter, or any news release, to the media).
Occasionally I find a letter to the editor that’s particularly enlightening, thought provoking, well worth my time to read.
In other words, it’s Nicely Said.
Which is why I’m leaving my library, having finished my morning read and other business, to share with you this letter to the editor that appeared in my local paper, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
Tip of the iceberg
The article about Guillermo Reyes (“Neighborhood fixture dies homeless,” Jan. 23) was very appropriate and very well written. I hope readers will understand that the situation written about is only the “tip of the iceberg.”
Advances in medical science have extended the life span, the results of which has been an increase in the population of older adults with problems similar to those of Mr. Reyes. In the U.S., as in other countries, the baby boom generation is reaching retirement age. The number of people over the age of 65 continues to climb and along with it the number of people (like Mr. Reyes) affected by dementia.
Currently about 5.3 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, with several million more diagnosed with vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, or delirium due to multiple etiologies. These numbers are expected to double or triple in the next 40 years (Alzheimer’s Association, 2009).
Approximately 47 percent of the population between the ages of 60 and 75 can be expected to suffer some form of geriatric cognitive disorder.
To understand the nature of the geriatric dysfunction that can occur, we can look at the role of dementia in these cognitive disorders and should investigate the ease with which advantage can be taken of people with these disorders, as in Mr. Reyes’ case.
The social, personal and economic impact of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias on society is profound and growing. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and carries with it an annual price tag of $148 billion (Alzheimer’s Association, 2009). The burden that dementia imposes on caregivers reverberates through every community, leaving no neighborhood untouched.
I am a retired psychologist who volunteers at the senior center in Rancho Cucamonga. The needs of the seniors are very obvious to me as I talk to them (and learn from them) in the programs that I (with many others) volunteer for such as the dining room program, bread program and commodities program. I only wish I could do more.
Here’s the first part of the front-page story Mr. Lieberman refers to in his letter:
Neighborhood fixture dies homeless
By Wendy Leung Staff Writer
RANCHO CUCAMONGA — A longtime homeowner who became homeless last year when his mental illness took its toll has died.
Guillermo Reyes Daily Bulletin staff photo
Guillermo Reyes, recognized by many in the Hyssop Drive neighborhood as the kind and talkative man behind a shopping cart full of aluminum cans, died in a hospital on Jan. 11 from lung cancer, friends said. He was 79.
“There were a lot of people who knew him, just meeting him on the streets,” said Steve Wasden, a former neighbor of Reyes. “There’s a lot of people who cared about him. He loved to talk and he just drew me in. There was something special about him.”
A thin, fragile-looking man, Reyes exhibited a smile that belied his troubles. He was a compulsive hoarder who slipped through cracks and ended up living on the streets despite having purchased his home with cash in 1976.
His neighbors and friends say society failed him.
“I definitely feel like he’s better off now,” Wasden said.
Read full article
Mr. Lieberman’s letter has key elements that appeal to editors and make for a great LTE. He sticks to one subject, brings a unique perspective, and he uses verifiable facts, figures and statistics to make his case.
He starts by identifying the story to which he’s responding, one that got a lot of attention. The tragic story of Guillermo Reyes ran on the front page, had strong human interest and included a compelling photo.
It didn’t hurt Lieberman’s chances of being published that he praises how “very well written” and “appropriate” the Daily Bulletin’s article is.
Lieberman quickly launches into his purpose in writing: to alert us to a growing and profound problem where Guillermo Reyes is just the “tip of the iceberg.” Longer life spans and aging baby boomers mean more and more people suffering from dementia.
Lieberman defines the problem with sobering statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association: 5.3 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease, millions more with some other form of dementia, and “These numbers are expected to double or triple in the next 40 years.” The annual price tag of Alzheimer’s is $148 billion.
One statistic especially grabbed me: “Approximately 47 percent of the population between the ages of 60 and 75 can be expected to suffer some form of geriatric cognitive disorder.” That should give many readers pause. It hits close to home for me. I think of myself, my mother, my neighbors who are seniors. Keep this in mind if ever you write an LTE: Editors like it when you can tie your issue to as many as readers as possible.
Lieberman ends on a personal note, his volunteer work at the RC senior center, where he sees first hand the need many seniors have for assistance.
I know the RC senior center, it’s in a big, new beautiful building, always has plenty of activities going on, and has wonderful, caring staff and volunteers (such as Jack, whom unfortunately I’ve never met).
If only Mr. Reyes had one day gone through the doors of the RC senior center, perhaps met Jack Lieberman, maybe he could have been saved from such a sad end. I know the center has been a lifesaver for many seniors in Rancho (an example that government, at least local government, can do some things right!).
Jack reveals that he’s a retired psychologist, which qualifies him as an expert on this subject. I kind of guessed he knew what he was talking about when he referred to “vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, or delirium due to multiple etiologies.” In general, I would stay away from using too many technical terms in your LTE–your readers will quickly disconnect and jump to an easier read.
The closing is memorable: “I only wish I could do more.” Jack’s empathy, humility and desire to help left me with a better appreciation of the human drama behind the statistics and the pressing need to address dementia and mental illness in a growing segment of our population.
Exactly what I think Jack Lieberman hoped to accomplish in writing his letter to the Daily Bulletin.
Read the best of recent letters published in the LA Times
Please encourage me to get off the pot and post at least once a week