It sounded like a bold statement when the Observer’s founder, the late Anthony Urillo, led off the newspaper’s first edition with the declaration that the Observer will be the voice of the community. “In every community there exists a need for a central voice—for a vehicle to mirror and record the life of their community,” he wrote on Dec. 3, 1975.
For more than 43 years, the Observer has been striving to live up to that promise. At times, that stance has placed us directly in the crosshairs of public controversy. It happens whenever somebody writes a controversial column or letter.
We make no apologies for printing letters from readers or from community leaders—whether we agree or disagree with the content of those letters. It’s important to note that we don’t vet letters to the editor. We don’t pull them if we disagree with them. We don’t fact check the assertions like we would in our news coverage. It’s the authors’ opinions, not ours.
As an organization that thrives under the first amendment, we take it very seriously. Free speech is sacred, and a free press is central to any democracy. As we emphasize at the top of our editorial page each week, the views expressed through columns and letters reflect the authors. Their views are not endorsed—explicitly or implicitly—by us. We do offer our institutional opinion each week, on the left side of the editorial page. The rest is set aside for our readers and the community. They are not endorsed by us, nor are they censored (unless the letter veers into slander, libel, or defamation). We vehemently defend everybody’s first amendment right to free speech. It’s vitally important.
We trust our readers to discern what they want to believe and what they want to dismiss. If people abuse this privilege, our philosophy may change, but we believe a newspaper should be a forum for its readers. On the other hand, we feel that we need to quote Benjamin Franklin: “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.”
In this age of social media, the truth is getting harder and harder to discern. For the first time in history, people are able to select each voice they listen to, subscribing only to outlets that echo their own opinions and joining chatrooms that pick and choose the viewpoints presented. At the same time, it’s becoming easier and easier to silence other voices.
When political parties do this, it creates a divide so wide that opponents can’t even agree upon the facts underlying their opinions. When it happens in the newsroom, it leads to “fake news.” When it happens in government, it leads to propaganda and disinformation. Editorial bias can be subtle, and it happens regardless of the author’s intentions.
Take the Town Council Facebook page as a perfect example. Nobody is able to comment on a story once it’s posted. Only the council can add content, and that gives them the power to control the conversation. We’ve noticed that they pick and choose the news stories added to their feed. Only the stories that paint them in the best light are posted. No criticism is ever posted. No alternate points of view are allowed. It creates a quid-pro-quo relationship with the press—play nice or be silenced. We don’t think that’s their intention, but that’s what happens when editorial bias exists. There are people in the community that base their opinions on this cherry-picked, fake-news propaganda. That’s scary.
We work very hard to avoid that, and most days we are successful. So don’t point fingers at us for allowing a voice to be heard in our letters—even if it’s ugly. Speak out if you disagree like some readers did this week. That takes courage, and it’s the only way to have an actual conversation.
We invite readers to contribute letters to the editor. Please include a name, address, and phone number and email us at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.