As publisher of The Daily News, I receive lots of reader notes. Many as beautiful as spring roses, others prickly as thorns. I love to hear from the community and have learned a great deal along the way.
That brings me to what I hope is not a growing misconception about why The Daily News publishes guest columns and letters to the editor. Guest columns are those submitted by people who are not Daily News staff writers. Daily News editors collect them, verify authorship and share them with the community.
Often, the columns and letters to the editor that are published along with them inspire response through other letters and columns. That’s what we hope for, anyway.
And sometimes, they inspire more personal notes, as was the case earlier this week.
Handwritten on a newsprint page featuring a local resident’s guest column were the words: “Who is this man and what makes you think his opinion matters? Consider us G-O-N-E!”
I paused after reading it, imagining the voice and passion on the other end. And while one could quickly become defensive as if being poked by a sharp stick, I wondered whether our newspaper’s long tradition of sharing opinions from local residents is increasingly misunderstood. I certainly hope not.
The guest column offered one Galveston County resident’s political opinion. The writer expressed his displeasure with President Trump. A column or a letter from a reader expressing displeasure with a politician, and frequently with all politicians, is standard newspaper fare. It’s a type of expression far older than the medium.
What seems more recent and troubling was the note, and especially this — “what makes you think his opinion matters?”
America is a melting pot of races, religions, cultures and opinions. And from this gumbo comes a history of continuous advancement like no other place.
Perfect? No. Flawed at times? Yes. Willing to change? Absolutely.
But change comes from people feeling free to voice their opinions without reprisal from the government or their neighbors. And in the latter case, the government’s role is to protect citizens’ constitutional right of free speech.
Fostering and supporting a culture of civil, free-flowing ideas and opinions is important to the United States because it helps drive the evolution of our society.
As for me, I do not need to agree with an opinion to value the voice. My hope is we are not moving toward a self-censoring environment, one where disagreement means discounting or devaluing another’s voice. Without welcoming a variety of opinions, we risk losing the introspection that helps us challenge, and often affirm, the opinions we hold.
The Daily News is a tool designed to share different points of view and a variety of opinions. And undoubtedly over the past 178 years, the paper has published countless opinions from residents that brought into question widely held beliefs. Regardless of whether the opinions were ahead or behind the times, sharing them served an essential role, helping to preserve the good and evolve toward the better.
Guest columns and letters to the editor will continue in The Daily News. I strongly feel our community deserves a forum that fosters civil and respectful discussions. When a column publishes in The Daily News, the words become a permanent part of Galveston County’s record. Regardless of whether The Daily News agrees or not with a local resident’s opinion, we will always value that resident’s voice and fight for the person’s right to speak.
To us, every voice matters — even the one in that note I got this week.