On the Editing of Letters to the Editor

Unbeknownst to many newspaper readers, letters to the editorare usually edited by a letters editor. While the stated goalis to reduce verbosity, the result is often a change in the bias ortone of the submitter. These changes are generally never run by theoriginal author, and can significantly change what the author wastrying to convey.

Sometimes letter editors completely mangle the originalsubmission. I had several letters printed in the London Free Pressover the years where well crafted submissions were edited intosemi-literate diatribes.

As an example of minor editing, consider a letter that I hadprinted in the Toronto Star this weekend.

Providing an excellent example of hysterical fear-mongering,Shane Bowden wrote that Ontarians “chose to completely reject” aWestern-based party. That comes as quite a surprise given thatclose to 2 million Ontarians cast their vote for Stephen Harper,giving the Conservatives 40 seats from Ontario. Even more tellingis the reappearance of the nonsensical persecution complex,imagining that Harper was thwarted by cowboy-fearing Ontarians.Ontarians base their votes on party platforms andconservative-liberal ideology, not some myopic regional inferioritycomplex

Compare that to the original submission.

Providing an excellent example of hysterical fear mongering,Shane Bowden wrote (Jan. 26th) to tell us that Ontarians “chose tocompletely reject” a Western-based party. That comes as quite asurprise given that close to 2 million Ontarians cast their votefor Mr. Harper, giving the Conservatives a respectable 40 seatsfrom Ontario. Indeed, the Conservatives garnered more than twicethe votes in Ontario than they did in Alberta, putting on anextraordinarily strong showing for a regrouping party, andproviding them an opportunity to prove themselves and theirpolicies to Canada.

Even more telling is the reappearance of the nonsensicalpersecution complex, imagining that Mr. Harper’s ascent wasthwarted by cowboy-fearing Ontarians, eager to hold down the risingWest. Remarkably, the Ontarians I’ve spoken to seem to basetheir votes on party platforms and conservative/liberal ideology,not some sort of myopic regional inferiority complex.

The editing is subtle, but the result is a different tone andbias than what was intended.