Editorial: A mediating medium

  • April 20, 2023

Editors get letters for the same reason Toronto suffers mockery for not being Montreal: fair or unfair, it comes with the territory.

The principle holds so steadfast that at The Catholic Register, the Editor continues to get letters, fair and unfair, despite our decision to replace them with a column we call Verbatim. In place of heterogenous readers’ truncated comments, we feature ingenious texts from various sources edited for style and brevity. 

When people continue sending letters despite the mailbox being locked, it might seem they aren’t actually reading the newspaper to which they’re writing. But no. We vowed to run letters monthly (a target missed months ago) so those who write are holding us to our word. Read the letters belatedly published this week and it’s evident the writers have kept keen eyes on our content.

Chief among the epistolary rockets we receive are those from readers incensed by us kiboshing the launch pad for their prose. A fine example arrived from a Mr. Pincivero of Toronto, who called us to account: “PLEASE PROVIDE YOUR FINE NEWSPAPER’S RATIONALE…FOR GETTING RID OF THE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR SECTION AND IT BEING REPLACED BY (FORGET NAME)…A LUDICROUS DECISION…” (all caps in original).” He argued our letters were often “THE BEST PART OF THE PAPER” and removing them was “ANTI DEMOCRATIC (IE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE).”

To repeat the rationale we’ve previously published, we simply weren’t getting the volume or variety of voices for a fair and fruitful letters section.

The Editor, as a former letters editor, would happily agree editorial letters can be the best part of any newspaper. Except, that is, when only a handful of readers regularly take pen in hand. Even a Te Deum Mass would be tedious in monotone.

Mr. Pincivero goes unwittingly awry, perpetuating a larger error permeating society, in his indictment of The Register as “anti-democratic” for making the change, however. Why? Because newspapers, like the family and Holy Mother Church, are not by nature democratic. We’re not anti-democratic. Democracy isn’t us. Newspapers, or web-based substitutes, can play important roles in a democracy. Yet in their mechanics and meaning, the closest they come to being democratic is as a “guided” democracy, which leaves the directive “voice of the people” over the hill and far away. No newspaper puts its headlines to a referendum. Expressly because there must be last words on each page, someone must have the arbitrary last word over those words.

Newspapers have an Editor chiefly because everyone needs an editor — “the people” more than anyone. Proof is the post-election moment when “the people have spoken” and a newspaper’s editorializing role is to point out “Yes, and they got it wrong.” 

Newspapers are mediating institutions within democratic societies. As such, they are athwart democracy itself, a discernment Catholics steeped in the Church’s principle of subsidiarity should inherently understand. 

The Editor welcomes letters pro and con.

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