Peterson: Stuck in the middle with you
Want to know where all the conspiracy theorists live in Eagle County? The bigots? The crackpots? The climate change deniers and the armchair COVID-19 experts?
They’re all right there, in my inbox.
You’d be shocked at some of the correspondence that comes into the Vail Daily and the invective that spews across my voicemail.
Nobody gets into the business of journalism to get screamed at all the time, but here’s the thing: Every good editor knows that the screaming is preferable to silence.
That is, as long as you’re getting screamed at from all sides.
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While I’d love for you to see some of those letters, or hear some of those voicemails — including a few that have been shared with local authorities — I’d be derelict in my duties if I didn’t police what makes it into print and what doesn’t.
Does the Vail Daily, as a nonpartisan news organization, embrace a diversity of opinions? Absolutely. Are the Vail Daily’s opinion pages a reflection of my own personal biases? Absolutely not.
I don’t choose who writes the letters, and our lineup of regular columnists is an array of voices built up over the years by editors past and present. Our editorial board is also comprised of conservatives and progressives, men and women, young and old.
So what exactly do I do? I enforce the standards that protect the institution and keep the community conversation on track. So, yes, that means I’ve spiked letters or columns that didn’t meet those standards — either because they were factually challenged or they contained personal attacks. Or, simply put, they expressed opinions that aren’t suitable for a publication that touts “bringing communities together” on its front page.
I’ve also limited frequent letter writers to once a month to let other community members have their turn at the mic.
I don’t think it’s helping the community for me to run letters wishing death on Gov. Polis or blaming undocumented residents for all of our valley’s problems. Ditto for letters that push bogus pseudo-science from think tanks funded by the oil and gas industry that seek to deny the existence of global climate change. I could go on.
If you see bias there, so be it. I’m not going to argue with you.
You’re free to go express those opinions wherever you so choose, be it Facebook or Twitter. You don’t need the Vail Daily to make your points.
If there’s one thing that might shock readers of all stripes, it’s that the majority of letters I’ve spiked in the past 15 months haven’t had anything to do with politics or culture wars.
Nope, those unpublished letters mostly involved criticisms of Vail Resorts — the majority of them scathing.
But here’s why those letters never made the paper, despite the veracity of the claims: The Vail Daily doesn’t run anonymous letters.
The only exception I’ve made to that rule was when I didn’t run the full names of local fourth graders from June Creek Elementary who wrote in asking for their school not to be shuttered.
Forgive me for my lapse in judgment.
Why even bother with these standards? Why not just let the mud fly? Why not wave the white flag when it comes to fighting fake news?
Tempted as I might be to do just that some days, given how much of a chore it is to confirm identities and fact check every single word of a letter, given all the emails back and forth, I truly believe in the work. I’m not just a traffic cop punching a timecard.
While I heartily disagree with a number of the opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers, I embrace the forum. I welcome the criticisms from liberals who chastise me for running columns from Butch Mazzuca or Kaye Ferry just as much as I welcome the barbs from conservatives who repeatedly tell me that the Vail Daily has turned bluer than our newspaper boxes around the valley.
Somewhere, among all that shouting, there’s the middle.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right …
A local newspaper, at its best, is an ongoing community conversation that takes place in those opinion pages. It’s a hub for civil debate, for community engagement, for deserved praise and for warranted criticism, for reflection and, last but not least, humor.
We are a better valley for having that forum. When newspapers die, that conversation dies too — and communities become less informed and more polarized.
If you don’t agree, well, I’d encourage you to write a letter to the editor.
Nate Peterson is the editor of the Vail Daily. Email him at email@example.com.