Public agents for real change - Letters in newspapers

In our fraught, regressing world, where, in our darkest nightmares, a nuclear war might be brought closer by an

incoherent Twitter grunt from under an expensive but ketchup-flecked duvet, it might seem anachronistic to sing the praises — and recognise the power, too — of public letter-writing.

Despite the constant white noise, the endless shouting-down on social media, despite suggestions that our capacity to concentrate or engage has diminished, the readers’ letters columns in grown-up newspapers continually reaffirm that most of us aspire to better things, and to a wiser and fairer society — and are not too shy about making those ambitions known.

Those entertaining, informative columns are one of the very few open, free-to-all platforms moderated by experienced professionals who, in the main, are only concerned with how correspondents’ views might offend the laws on slander, provoke hatred, or, in rare cases, public taste.

A good, articulate letter-writer may make you challenge long-held positions or maybe consider an alternative

view. The relentless tsunami of letters on the Eighth Amendment, orchestrated or not, that will — and have

already begun to — arrive in newspaper offices over the coming months will be testimony to that enduring power. 

The old adage that everyone has a book in them may be overly optimistic, but most of us have strong views worth sharing — and hurler-on-the-ditch silence achieves little enough. Dear Sir ... Dear Madam ...

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