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Sophie's Choice: Your John Hancock, please?

October 13, 2011

“I think the newspaper should do an investigative report on the vague so-and-so, because they vaguely did such-and-such and it’s ruined my life. I’m not signing this letter, as I am well known in this area and the so-and-so is out to get me for such-and-such and it it’s just, like, mean. Did I mention they ruined my life? Go get em’!”
Excuse my flippancy, but there is legitimate reasoning behind it. More often then not, we get valid, interesting news tips from individuals that we follow up on. Sometimes that information results in a news story, sometimes it doesn’t. Nevertheless, we appreciate those who do bring them to our attention. We’re a small news staff and we have only gotten smaller in my short tenure at the Statesman-Examiner. Whether times are prosperous or problematical, it’s gratifying to know that our readers have our backs.
So on that note, allow me to address my opening satirical paragraph. I mean no disrespect to those who come to us with compelling storylines, so I ask that you take this with the esteem in which it is given: please, for the love of ballpoint, sign your name to letters you send us. Anonymous is for the protection of minors and weekly A.A. groups. We are not the New York Times; we do not have the staff or the time to follow up on news tips given to us by nameless, secretive individuals.
I feel comfortable in saying that I’ve lost track of the number of letters that have been sent to me over the years with no name or contact information adorning the script, but I know how many times I have followed up on them. Goose egg. Zip. Zero.
Wait, I take that back. There was one letter sent to me not too long ago where the reader kindly suggested I could focus my column on more noteworthy topics, citing several different local storylines I might pursue (apparently, they were having trouble with the distinction between the editorial section and news, but that’s okay). It’s a common issue—editorial (opinion content) vs. hard, unbiased news. A lot of folks don’t know the difference.
The maddening part was that they did not provide any names in connection with the story ideas, nor did they leave their own moniker and contact information for me to inquire about how I could get in touch with any of these interesting potential interviewees.
My powers are many, but I am not a mind reader.
Other times, we get letters chock full of conspiracy theory gone so wild, even Ray Bradbury would say, “Whoa, keep a lid on it, man.” The authors of this particular brand of correspondence usually do not sign their name because apparently they are under the impression that we (yes, I do have an editor) have an epistle-sniffing dog under the desk that will track them down and reveal their whereabouts to whichever entity is out to get them this week. I swear we are not the mafia; we are not “in the pocket” of the FBI, ATF, CIA, YMCA, KFC, GOP, DEMS or any other acronym for that matter.
Despite rumors you may have heard and letters to the editor stating it outright, we are not strictly right wing, left wing, or Pegasus wings, for that matter.
Besides, think of it this way: if the jet trails in the sky are really out to poison you and just you specifically (and that comes from a real anonymous letter I received), then you have way bigger problems than your hometown newspaper is capable of dealing with. I like to think our staff is skilled and competent, but none of us looks like Superman when we take our glasses off (all though I’ve been told I look like Hailey Mills).
So if you have a story that you think the newspaper should cover, share it with us. Like I said, we don’t guarantee that it will materialize into a story, but it doesn’t hurt to try. After all, what’s the point of writing an article if no one reads it?
Just do us a favor if you write a letter and include your John Hancock.
To those who have taken the time to read through this, I dig comments, criticism, or any excuse that allows me to check my email. So if you would like to vent or share, please send questions and whatnot to Sophia@statesmanexaminer.com.

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