Saturday, January 22, 2011

Letters Without (Known) Authors

For some time, The Chronicle of Higher Education has been printing unsigned letters from their web page. This violates a fundamental principle of journalism: do not print unsigned letters. I learned this in high school (1973-75) while working on the staff of The Eagle's Cry (the paper of West High in Anchorage, Alaska). On some occasions, a paper might print something and withhold the name of the writer--perhaps to protect him or her from dangerous recrimination. But that is not the situation for The Chronicle. They are letting people express ideas without being accountable for them. It is vexing. I have been writing letters to the editor since I was a child, and every one of them was signed, "Douglas Groothuis."

Particularly vexing were the comments in the most recent issue by one anonymous writer who was excoriating the work of Francis Schaeffer and evangelicalism in general. (This was in response to an article calling for careful scholarship about evangelicalism, something secular academics have been bemused over and writing on for about fifteen years.) Being both an expert on Schaeffer and a Christian academic who has reflected on the state of evangelicalism for over thirty years, I wanted to respond to these false charges with an email--or at least to know who wrote the letter. But under cover, this writer is allowed to vent his irresponsible charges with no personal accountability.

This is wrong. The Chronicle should know better and changes its ways.

1 comment:

zebrareader said...

My hometown newspaper, The Record Searchlight, prints comments without the names of the writers all of the time. I can see the pros and cons of this situation. It gives tremendous freedom to people to the writers although the real correspondents' names are known to the newspaper. It really helped when I worked for the state of California.