Editor, Ceres Courier,
I've been meaning to write for ages. I miss your old "Sound Off" section and never understood why you discontinued it. It was like the "voice of the common people," who don't have the confidence or the articulation to write a formal "letter to the editor." I liked reading the column because I felt like it gave a quick survey of what was important to other people in town at a given time.
I know the column had flaws, but overall, it was a good use of space - please consider bringing it back.
(Editor's note: The reasons for pulling the plug on "Sound Off!" in April 2012 were outlined in my column of May 2, 2012. Here are some excerpts from that column which offered an explanation:
"The truth is that everything that has a life has an end. We felt it was time for our "Sound Off!" line to be unplugged. Good timing because it had operated for about 19 years and because in our move to Turlock, we had yet figured out a way to keep the comment line operational. And truthfully, our new boss received several emails appealing for him to start anew by canning the controversial feature of our paper. It's not the first time a Courier manager has been asked to do so.
"I, too, was ready to give it up. There was a fair amount of discernment exercised and time suffered by myself in listening all those calls. I enjoyed "Sound Off!" as much as a root canal. It simply was a displeasing chore listening and transcribing those thousands of calls over the decades. At least two individuals called with such regularly that I had contempt for anything they had to say. It was the single aspect of this job that would stress me out the most and the negativity would often rub off and send me into a "mood."
"The tradition of "Sound Off!" started back in the 1990s when then - and now late - publisher Darrel Phillips borrowed the idea from the Chico Enterprise Record. This was before blogging became a common practice on websites. It has always been a controversial part of our paper. Many have felt that the format allowed people to take crude pot shots behind the veil of anonymity. While certainly true, Mr. Phillips' take on the matter was that allowing readers to speak behind the veil would loosen up opinions and potential truisms that otherwise would not be stated if a name were attached.
"The other papers in our chain had similar comment lines. Turlock had the "Red Phone." One by one they were dismissed. The Courier's "Sound Off!" was the last hold-out.
"Let's look at the positives of our decision. If you were among those who hated "Sound Off!," this is your day of celebration. No more do you have to endure what seemed like the endless back and forth sniping between callers over issues like immigration (both legal and illegal), Mexicans versus white, and whether cops are heroes or scoundrels.
"We feel like this is a great opportunity to say to our community, you are invited to continue submitting your opinions to be published as letters to the editor. We merely ask that you sign them. And I ask you please do not cheat with fake names. (I know of a man who regularly writes letters to the Bee but who never signs his real name.) If it's questionable, we're calling you.
"You are welcome and encouraged to send in letters to The Ceres Courier, 138 S. Center Street, Turlock CA 95380; or email them to me at email@example.com.
"If you used "Sound Off!" in the past to report to us story ideas or rat on somebody doing something illegal or unethical, you may still do that. Call me directly at (209) 249-3583.
"While our "Sound Off!" line never got as rank as the cesspool of dialogue that flows on Craigslist's "rants and raves" section, it did offend people from time to time until readers became immune to the shock factor.
"Stanislaus County Schools Superintendent Tom Changnon has been pushing civility as a standard of living in Stanislaus County. We like the "Choose Civility" campaign and believe pulling the plug on "Sound Off!" will help restore civility to pages of the Courier.
"Please keep sharing your opinions with us. Just be respectful and please sign your name. There is a way to express concerns and the best way is to do it with respect and civility."