New Castle News

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July 15, 2013

Mitchel Olszak: Anonymous letters to paper can produce frustration

NEW CASTLE — Here at the New Castle News, we get our share of anonymous letters.

The topics of these letters run the gamut, ranging from complaints about what we do or don’t do, to all manner of allegations against public officials, businesses and private citizens.

Charges of wrongdoing are typically submitted in the hopes we will run the information. Of course, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the details in the letter are either inaccurate, unprovable or otherwise unpublishable.

As a general rule, the anonymous letters we receive are thrown away. In most cases, there’s no reason to keep them, and the unwillingness of the writers to identify themselves tends to diminish their credibility.

But every now and then, an anonymous letter comes across my desk that truly frustrates me. I wish I could call the writer up and answer their questions. But the lack of name or phone number makes that impossible.

One such letter came recently from “a concerned subscriber.” It expressed the view that The News should not print the addresses of women who are single and live alone.

The letter refers to an automobile accident where a woman involved apparently was charged with something. The letter offered no specifics about the woman or the accident, so I had nothing to refer to.

But the letter goes on to claim the woman had to move from her home, with the implication this was a result of her being identified in the newspaper article about the accident. The letter does not specify why this would occur.

Because I cannot reply directly to this letter writer, I decided to do so through this column. If someone had this type of difficulty, that’s indeed unfortunate. But it’s far from clear that the newspaper can be blamed for it.

The first thing I would say to this letter writer would be a question: How do we know which women involved in accidents are single and live alone? Typically, this isn’t the sort of information contained in accident reports we receive from police, because it isn’t pertinent.

Simply put, we normally don’t know the marital status of people involved in accidents — male or female. So how would we even begin to comply with this letter writer’s request?

About the only thing we could do is stop identifying all people involved in accidents and other incidents. But being a newspaper, publishing information is our job. And based on reader response, there is a significant degree of public interest in matters along these lines.

I should note that we routinely receive requests to have names left out of police reports, usually because the parties involved don’t want others to know what happened. But we run everything we get; anything else would be unfair and smack of favoritism.

I hope that addresses somebody’s concern.

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