THE Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “argument” thus: “An exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one.” But it goes on to add: “A reason or set of reasons given in support of an idea, action or theory.”
On The Herald’s Letters Pages, we have plenty of the former. And, I’m pleased to say, a good deal of the latter.
It’s easy to be riled by something or someone and fire off an angry tweet; for some people, it has become second nature. To post an angry retort on the comments section can be the work of an instant. It’s a no-brainer. Sadly.
That, though, is not the case when it comes to writing a letter. If you want it to be published, you have to calm down, collect your thoughts, compose your argument. You will remember that you have to put your name and address to it. We insist, even though we now only publish a truncated version; there’s no hiding behind a username. You take responsibility for what you write.
The big difference between our Letters Pages and comments on an online forum is that our letters are meant to be taken as a piece of civic journalism. We try to provide a forum that is thought-provoking, informative and entertaining. It’s not our work, it’s yours. And we thank you for it.
Another difference between the printed pages and online comments is that we can’t, and won’t, print everything we receive. We need to maintain a decent standard of debate, and we need to stay on the right side of the defamation laws. We have space for 2,800 words every day; we receive many times that. In short, the Letters Pages need to be edited. That’s where I come in. I’m here to help you have your say. And in this column in the coming weeks, I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have about the process.
Let me start, though, by pre-empting a couple. The most common complaints I get are allegations of bias. I want to be clear: you will read, near the top of the facing page: “The Herald is committed to providing fair and impartial coverage of Scotland’s affairs and does not endorse any political party.” That is true for the Letters Pages, with knobs on. We will always try to provide balanced coverage of any particular issue. Argument and counter-argument; that’s the ideal. We get gripes from both sides of the constitutional debate, so I guess we must be doing something right.
People also complain about the frequency with which certain contributors appear. But no one, no matter how often they write, has anything like a 100 per cent strike rate: once a week is a good effort, and few achieve that. The remedy, of course, is to join in the debate yourself.
Now, anything else I can help you with?