Whether you are a politician or a publisher, there is a reality about letters to the editors. They usually come not with praise and glory, but brimstone and fury.
People write to us about our articles in anger and frustration over positions they think were distorted or defamatory. When you publish a newspaper, it comes with the territory. All news is not good news.
One thing we do with our letters is give to the writers and critics free reign to express their views, popular or controversial. Look back and see the things they have said about me. I might as well be Bashar Assad Kent.
Letters to the editor represent the voice of the community, and in a community newspaper you suck it up, listen to, and absorb what they have to say.
We may not agree with these voices, but we will not shut them out. As you can see today, with the full page letter from Frank Marin, defending Sunshine Cathedral, all sides get a voice at SFGN. Gay news, straight facts on our news pages, but your opinion, everyone’s opinion- has a place in the op-eds and on letters pages.
Having shared that, the decisions to publish these letters are news decisions, not personal assaults. A real paper cannot avoid controversy. A former secretary of the United Nations, a one time United States Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said it best: “If you visit a country and read a newspaper where there is only good news in it, there is a good chance that a lot of good people are in jail in that country.”
For a newspaper to be relevant to your lives, it must engage debate and discussion, critics and commentators. Our duty is not just to perpetuate the status quo, but question authority, and author questions.
In today’s paper SFGN shares with you a stunning letter to the editor from Chris Reina, featured in a high profile news story last month when he was arrested and jailed for child pornography charges.
Today, he is Inmate number 50095-004, writing to us from a federal prison. He sends a message to the LGBT community that resonates from his heart. Everyone should read this letter. There are so many lessons in it. We don’t get many letters from federal prison.
First of all, Chris is not a bad person. He may have been undone by some poor choices, but like so many other gay and straight men, he has learned you don’t use crystal meth. It uses you.
Second, nothing is more valuable than your freedom. Become an addict and you become a slave, whether it is to drugs or alcohol.
Third, beware of the Internet and the jaws that bite, the fingers that clutch. There are predators on there, and many of them wear badges, purposely trying to induce and entrap you into acting illegally and against your will. Don’t compromise your freedom by getting snared by their web.
Fourth, if you know Chris, and many of you do, from his work at the Pet Project to his partnerships in rehab, write a letter right away to the federal judge about to sentence him. Federal judges, while mandated by strict guidelines imposed by Congress, still have some discretion. And Chris needs a voice.
Fifth, and finally, the news story about Chris Reina getting jailed was not intended to be hurtful, anymore than a letter to the editor criticizing a politician for a controversial public stand.
When a community newspaper courageously engages controversy, and reports on its accurately, sometimes we uncover wounds and reveal pain, or expose corruption. Look at some of the letters attacking us last year when Gideon Grudo started writing about a Ponzi Scheme at Wilton Station. ‘Yellow journalism’ was all we heard, but the culprit is now in jail, wearing black and white prison stripes. The paper may yet win an award for the expose.’
Our hometown is Wilton Manors and greater Fort Lauderdale, and the residents who read this paper are legitimately concerned about whether it is safe to jog along North Dixie Highway where a speeding car last November ran over my own Golden Lab. We may not be able to cover 75 cities in 3 counties, but we can look out and ask questions in our own backyard.
Accordingly, when the city commission of Wilton Manors spends four years failing to fulfill an economic responsibility to revitalize Wilton Drive and help local businesses and residents with more accessible parking or street improvements, we don’t look the other way. We look for new commissioners with greater vision.
It does not matter if a politician is gay or straight, as long as the news is reported straight, and not covered up because the figure we are writing about happens to be gay.
Our job is to report news, good and bad, with all the warts and wounds our lives bring to it. Sometimes we are lucky enough to illuminate great achievements, but other days we have to share sad losses and bad acts. We did so when we reported that a porn actor killed a millionaire businessman, and we must do so if a local dude gets popped for child porn.
The story may unfold over time, so don’t judge anyone too soon. Let the facts play out, but let the story be told. That is what a good newspaper does. That is what we will continue to do, no matter where the chips fall. Norm Kent