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Newspapers vs. social media, the Bulletin, and letters to the editor

They exercise free speech centered around current events.

They are a business.

From the perspective of an editor, the ideal scenario is first and foremost the exercise of free speech related to reporting on current affairs and such with being a business a close second.

From the perspective of a publisher, the two are almost one in the same as well but with the need to be financially able to print clearly the top priority.

Unlike the government, newspapers are a business.

And unlike the government, you have the option of having a newspaper a part of your life.

Newspapers are not the government.

They do not have  powers to repress free speech.

Newspapers are not the Internet.

It is not a free-for-all.

Rest assured that government — that which is elected and that which runs the bureaucracy — are far from 100 percent thrilled with newspapers.

The City of Manteca is no different nor or any other local/regional/state agencies for that matter.

The goal when it comes to news columns is to inform readers of what the government does, warts and all. It often requires adding context. That may involve past actions, laws that local government must adhere to, and how a particular event or stance is interconnected with other concerns.

 There is no written government law that requires such an approach  by newspapers.

Not regulating the press beyond established parameters of libel and such was by design.

The founders of this country viewed the power of the printed word that can be delivered in various formats as a way of keeping check on the government created to implement the template of the great American experiment.

Yes, the founders never anticipated the Internet.

However, that is not the same for social media.

Social media —or more precisely what it is at its heart — is not a modern invention.

It is the backyard fence. It is the pub where like-minded people gather.

The mission of newspapers besides informing readers of what is going on in their community and offering context is to bring divergent views together in one place.

Understanding how others think and view the world is vital for a community to move toward a common good where those of divergent background and views can still work together as a civilized society.

This brings us to letters to the editor.

For the most part, they are opinions about current issues.

As such, they are not facts.

They are also not the opinion of the newspaper nor the editor.

But given the platform, it is not the same as social media, a raucous debate at a pub or conversation over a backyard fence .

Newspapers clearly aren’t Twitter, Nextdoor, Facebook Instagram or the social media platform du jour.

Letters are also not posts per se.

Those writing them do not post them.

Instead, they are submitted.

As such they are subject to editing as opposed to be moderated.

There is a huge difference.

Moderators enter the picture after the fact and may opt to remove something.

Editors make that decision before a letter is published.

It is not censorship.

The standards are much higher in a court of law for what a newspaper publishes than what the likes of Facebook allows to be posted.

That said, all newspapers are not alike although that may not be the case for corporations that may apply cookie cutter approaches.

Newspapers deal with issues such as length, whether what is said is obscene, blatantly offensive,  and whether it is pertinent, among other issues.

There is not a one-size-fits-all approach with letters nor among newspapers.

In terms of what the Bulletin publishes in the form of letters, it is a liberal policy.

That is not “liberal’ from a contemporary pollical perspective. It is “liberal” in terms of the process determining what makes its way into print.

The Bulletin — judging on what you can pick-up at a newsstand in at least a 100-mile radius if not more — is liberal in length allowed.

It is also liberal in the frequency of letters.

Frank Aquila and Larry Baca — the two most prolific letter writers to the Bulletin in the last 20 years by far — can attest to that.

Each one likely has had close to 1,000 letters printed given until recently when their frequency was limited to once a week.

Less than perhaps a dozen letters between them have not made it onto the pages of the Bulletin. And frequently segments of the letters have been edited out for reasons of taste, clarity, and brevity.

And while  both Baca and Aquila have their supporters, they also have their detractors.

More than a few of their detractors have demanded that one or the other be banned from the pages of this newspaper because of their views.

 At the same time there have been those that contend the Bulletin — or more specifically the editor — of sharing the views Aquila and Baca offer.

Given such contentions have been made by those that want Baca’s letters to disappear and those that want Aquila banished from the pages, it is clear that neither in the overall context of the letters are views the Bulletin or editor support.

Letters run not because the views expressed fail to align with a Bulletin position or reflect the editor’s opinion, but because they are opinions of the writer.

Again, not everything goes. That said beyond aiming for a level of decorum, opinions are far from being censored.

It is clear the Bulletin’s letter policy is liberal in that aspect as well given criticism of what is written in this column even when it might seem a tad personal to some readers appears frequently in letters to the Bulletin.

*Letters are the opinions at the core.

*The opinions in letters aren’t those expressed by the Bulletin or the editor.

*Letters to the editor are not the same as social media postings.

*The Bulletin runs letters to allow an exchange of divergent viewpoints necessary for a community to evolve.

 Newspapers are not social media.

As such, a reader should expect more.


  This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at