A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Letters to the Editor

By Quill

Send letters/comments/feedback to Quill at quill@spj.org.

Misguided advice in FOI column

In his effort to mix sarcasm with advice in his Quill column (FOI Toolbox, January/February), David Chartrand misguides journalists about the importance of covering public meetings. Inexperienced reporters who whine about covering public meetings typically know little about how state, county and municipal governments function. Being there is a way for journalists to understand community leaders and how they function in a group. Why should it matter whether the meeting conflicts with the family dinner hour or the reporter must sit on a vinyl chair? Does Chartrand really think reporters should be spared such inconveniences?

Public meetings and hearings can be boring and don’t always generate news, but attending meetings will always be a useful way to cover the elected and appointed leadership. The worst way is to try to guess from the agenda what might be interesting and then call officials after the meeting.

There’s no need for Chartrand to discourage citizens from attending public hearings; few do. That’s why reporters need to be there.


Retired, Central Ohio Pro chapter treasurer Canal Winchester, Ohio

Obituary program worthy

Your feature in the January/February issue about the South Florida obituary writing contest was worthy content, and I hope it will encourage editors around the country to enhance these articles. They are, after all, the last time some folks will get their names in a newspaper.

In the Chicago Tribune, which I read from front to back every morning, the quality of obit writing is generally high and akin to the principles of feature writing that many of us learned in journalism school.

Of course, an occasional lapse sneaks through, such as “Her friends always enjoyed watching her dance with her late husband.” (Yes, that would be interesting to watch!) Since I retired four years ago (as an editor, not as a journalist — we never retire), I have taken to reading the gray columns of agate type obits that usually are provided verbatim by the funeral directors for the families. You might say that this daily respite is like Facebook for geezers; more often than I’d like, I see a notice that an old friend has passed away, alas. But here is a feature that begs for oversight. Mistakes abound in these vignettes. Although they are in essence paid advertising, they are presented as editorial content, and that’s what most readers consider them. They do little credit to any otherwise credible publication.

Please, editors and publishers, make sure somebody omniscient looks these over for obvious errors and incongruous vernacular before they go to print. Divert the laughter of readers to the comics pages.


SPJ member since 1954