Ever since I took my first call from the letters Editor at The Times in 1999, I’ve always written about environmental stuff others often don’t want to write about.
Hedgehog populations, horsemeat, sea eagles, 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), midge diets, 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 often primary industries – farming, forestry, wildlife conservation – they tend to be reported in mainstream media rose-tinted or as a partisan issue in magazines. Try to find a different angle on the subject, I once told a particularly rural magazine.
It’s a new world comms now. Slick press release are spoon-fed directly into media 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 (…even 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, overly inquisitive, not towing a popular narrative’s line, an outlier from partisan views, outside 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. [Mind you, it was great 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 your full details) – though they might ring you to check details, meaning or spelling etc (as in anaerobic, not aerobic here) and below.
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 124+ 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 from me 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!