Letters To The Editor Toronto Star
Letters To The Editor Toronto Star – This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To order presentation-ready copies of Toronto Star content for distribution to colleagues, clients, or clients, or inquire about permissions/licensing, go to: www.TorontoStarReprints.com
The Confiança Project, launched in May 2017, aims to foster greater trust by providing a window into the journalism we produce. The team at TorStar Corp. meets regularly to develop ways to improve transparency, while a weekly trust feature brings readers closer to the reports and decision-making behind our stories.
Letters To The Editor Toronto Star
This story is part of the Star Trust Initiative, where every week we take readers behind the scenes of our journalism. This week, we’ll look at how Star handles letters to the editor.
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The famous American playwright Arthur Miller once said in 1961, “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.”
This is a point of view held by many journalists today. And among the ways newspapers allow nations – or provinces, cities or neighborhoods – to talk to themselves is through the oldest form of reader engagement: letters to the editor.
Letters to the editor allow readers to gauge their opinions, thoughts or reactions to any issues or events in the news. On the Toronto Star, readers’ letters are posted at the end of section A on Sundays and weekdays, in the Insight section on Saturdays, and every day on the Letters page, at .
The Star receives about 25 letters a day, on average, suitable for publication. On most days of the week, a selection of five to eight letters is published, while a larger number is printed on Saturdays, usually focusing on the biggest stories of the week.
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Letters that reach publication are chosen by editors working with the Star’s editorial board, which works independently of the newsroom, led by editorial page editor Andrew Phillips. In addition to handling letters to the editor, the editorial board is responsible for daily editorials, guest writers’ opinion pieces, and editorial caricatures.
“A good letter to the editor is timely, interesting and well written. He focuses on the issues at hand,” Phillips said in an interview. “It’s also short – the lyrics are around 50 to 250 words long, so an award is given to writers who can get to the point very quickly and express a clear vision. A touch of humor also helps a lot.”
“We don’t like letters that are abusive, that engage in ad hominem attacks on other people, that deface the arguments of those with whom the writer disagrees, or that are defamatory. We are happy to publish letters that oppose the views expressed by Star editorials or columnists, but they must stick to the issues and avoid personal attacks,” Phillips said.
In addition, editors try to publish a representative sample of the letters sent. The Star tends to lean to the left in its editorial positions, and more letters the paper receives are from this perspective than from the right, notes Phillips.
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Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have allowed people to express their opinions without the filter of a newspaper editorial board, and this has resulted in a decrease in the number of letters to the editor in recent years. Social media also offers the protection of anonymity, allowing some users to express all sorts of thoughts behind a persona that may or may not be real.
That’s why the Star will not publish anonymous letters. In fact, the editorial board asks letter writers to disclose any conflicts of interest or involvement they may have with an issue they are evaluating.
“For example, a person writing to oppose a transit plan must disclose that they are the president of a community group fighting the plan, if any,” Phillips said. “We read the letters with an eye on that possibility, and if there is reason to suspect some sort of writer involvement, we can consult the writer or Google the name to see if anything relevant comes up.”
Composing a compelling letter to the editor can also take more effort than posting it on social media, so for readers who found your letters in print on the Star, it’s fair to say that the editorial board found your comments articulate, thoughtful, or relevant.
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“Readers today have many other ways to express their opinions, especially through social media, but the traditional letter to the editor remains important,” Phillips said. “And we certainly hope that readers will continue to submit them.”
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The reader’s letter to the editor was thoughtful and made an important point about depression and children in a powerfully personal way.
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But, you didn’t read it on the Letters page because the Star decided not to publish it.
For understandable reasons, which will become clear, Mississauga’s mother who sent the letter asked that her name be withheld. This is not in keeping with the Star’s long-standing practice of not publishing anonymous letters to the editor.
The Letters page, unlike the online comment sections where anonymity and pseudonyms have somehow become the norm on the Internet, has long served as an important forum for the voices of readers willing to speak up and put their names in their opinions. While there is nothing explicitly stated about this in the Star’s policy guide, a cardinal rule here, as far as anyone can remember, is that all published letters to the editor must include the letter’s author’s name and city of residence.
When submitting his letter, the writer included his full name, phone numbers, and address. But, she asked Estrela to omit his name and publish only his initials. As the letter made a strong point and we could understand his reasons for requesting anonymity, it made us stop to wonder this week whether the Star could make an exception to their rule and publish the letter even without the writer’s name.
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Surprisingly, given our digital age of online anonymity, this is still a relatively rare request for the Letters page. After considering the issue, letter editor Rob Wright and editorial page editor Andrew Phillips decided not to open the door to bringing the anonymity of online comments to the letter page.
Did Estrela make the right choice here? Put yourself in the chairs of these editors and consider the matter.
The woman wrote her letter in response to the letter from reader Rick Tufts published on the Feb. 20 letter page. Tufts’ letter expressed his opinion on an article in the Feb. 18 section of the Star about a new study that says a saliva test for teenagers with mild symptoms of depression can help identify those who will later develop major depression.
Tufts, a longtime regular contributor to Star’s Letters, made his opinion clear: “Let’s recognize this for what it really is: Big Pharma laying the groundwork to expand the antidepressant market. This saliva test will provide a rationale for getting more antidepressants to more children, sooner. How about this: less junk food and more exercise.”
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The woman’s letter of rebuttal provided a strong counterpoint to Tufts’ view, offering a candid, firsthand perspective on the critical issue of children’s mental health and antidepressants. After speaking with the woman to verify her identity, I will share her letter with you here, but please respect her request for anonymity. When you read it, I hope you understand why.
“. . . Seven years ago, at age 11, my daughter went into a deep depression and, despite counseling, she confessed that she wanted to hang herself. If it weren’t for the prompt assistance of mental health professionals and the appropriate antidepressants that were administered with strict observation, my daughter might not be here today. She continues on these medications today and is currently in college. We are so proud of her.
“Not all mental health problems can be cured with exercise and good nutrition. These are the myths that perpetuate the idea that having or discussing a mental illness is taboo.”
Of course, the irony here is that this woman talks about the “taboo” of talking about mental health, but she doesn’t want to be identified. Given that her letter reveals highly confidential and personal information about her 18-year-old daughter, I understand her dilemma.
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While I would like to inhabit a world where there is no stigma in talking about mental health challenges, I know that is still not the case. I understand why this mother wants her voice heard and why she wants to be anonymous and protect her daughter’s privacy.
Still like me