A quarter of a century ago social media was a speck in the eye of newspaper editors. As far as I’m aware, editors don’t yet take letters by text, Whatsapp or Zoom.
Ever since I took my first call from the letters Editor at The Times in 1999, I’ve always written about environmental stuff others don’t want to write about. Hedgehog populations, horsemeat, sea eagles, bTB and badgers, raptor conflict, deer, fungi hunters, little owl culls, wildfires, alien conifers, duck shooting, urban foxes, National Parks, indoor livestock, pesticides, flooding tensions, ash dieback (five), midges, tidal energy etc.
Short letters are hard to write. Very hard. Keeping them pithy, pertinent and peculiar is key to being published. As the subjects are primary industries – farming, forestry, wildlife conservation – they tend to be reported in mainstream media with a rose-tint or as a partisan issue in a magazine. Find a different angle on the subject, I once told the Farmers Weekly.
It’s a different world now. Slick press release are spoon-fed directly into inboxes. There’s less time for journalists to be curious, inquisitive or even check information. Perhaps it’s easier to bleach out nuance, publish and be damned (…if they can bother to change an incorrect picture or standfast).
Are we afraid today of putting our heads above the parapet of freethinking, in case we fear being perceived as skeptical, associated with climate skeptics, a outlier from the tribe? The term ‘cancelled’ stalks would-be correspondents’ minds.
“A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier” H L Mencken
And that’s before today’s array of socially febrile comms platforms. [I managed to get Mencken into a Guardian letter on diets.]
Bravely to the keyboard
Be brave. Be curious. Be glad newspapers still insist on a name and address (they don’t publish it all) – though years ago they rang you to check details, grammar, meaning etc
20 years on
After 20 years of scribbling, I note many of the subjects are still being discussed today. Some of my past letters dismay me now. But in the spirit of Aldo Leopold, who continually critically revised his opinions, I’m open to changing my mind while now seeking fresh ways to engender dialogue.
In case you wonder what I’ve said, I’m publishing all 122 of my Times letters to date (via Twitter hashtag #blackgullview) in a warts and all retrospective.
Think in a different way. I’m chuffed this conservation scientist took inspiration to pen a letter on a controversial subject.
Our lifespans are no more than a shifting baseline of recurring and new thoughts – make some of yours count. Go write a letter!