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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Endorse all you like in letters to the editor

By Tom Warhover
March 16, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Dear Reader,

Close readers of the editorial page will notice a lot of letters of support for the re-election of Barbara Hoppe to the Columbia City Council and nary a one for her opponent, Bill Tillotson.

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There's a simple reason: You can't publish what you don't have.

From all appearances, Hoppe's campaign has encouraged her supporters to take pen in hand. Tillotson's hasn't.

It might give the appearance that the Missourian is favoring the incumbent. It isn't.

The issue came up at a recent meeting when an editor asked whether there should be some sort of cap on Hoppe letters.

Sometimes, political campaigns will set up what is essentially a form letter but signed by different people — a "just add water" kind of endorsement. Those usually get tossed. So far, though, I haven't detected a ghostwriter for Hoppe.

A letter to the editor is similar to an online comment on an article in that it allows you to voice your opinion. With letters, there is an opportunity for editing — opinion page editor Elizabeth Conner might call a letter writer for a clarification on a point or correct grammatical errors. I don't have research, but I get the sense that a letter has more of a sense of permanence. Perhaps that's because they run in the print edition.

The Missourian strives for a range of views. It's deliberate that David Rosman and J. Karl Miller run on the same print edition page, for instance. Rose Nolen's opinions arise from experience different than George Kennedy's.

Taken as a whole, I’d like to think your columnists get beyond the narrow confines of left versus right.

With letters, Conner can only run what she gets.

I favor increased expression over some notion of balance, which presumes the number of words equates to their quality like grains of rice in a jar. Let Hoppe supporters have their say; her opponents have the same opportunity.

The Missourian will have other ways for you to assess candidates in the Second and Sixth wards of the council as well as the four candidates for Columbia School Board and some ballot issues. There's a whiteboard in the newsroom's meeting room used for planning when stories will run, and it's pretty much filled with election coverage from here until April 3.

You might want to look in particular to the March 30 edition when the Voters Guide is scheduled to run. My wife often uses the guide as a worksheet, dragging it along to the voting booth.

That's all for now. Keep those letters coming.

Tom