Do People Still Write Letters To The Editor?

I had a somewhat surreal experience a month ago. Out of the blue I received an email from someone from Rolling Stone magazine, saying that they wanted to know if I wanted to write a letter to the editor about an article in the upcoming issue -- and if I was interested they would ship me a copy of the magazine overnight. There were a bunch of things about this that didn't make any sense. First, they solicit letters to the editor?!? I had no idea. Second, they would overnight me a copy of the physical magazine? Just send me a digital copy. Finally, if I have something to say, I'm much more likely to just say it here than compose a "letter to the editor." The whole thing was so confusing that I emailed back to make sure that they were serious, and to ask if they always solicit letters to the editor. I didn't hear back for a bit, but a week later, a woman emailed back and said that they sometimes solicit letters from people to go along with the general letters they just get (she also pointed me to a URL since the article had been published in the interim, and there was no longer any need to overnight the magazine).

However, since then I've been thinking about what an out-of-date concept the whole "letter to the editor" is, so it comes as little surprise that Vice magazine skipped the Letters to the Editor this month, instead posting a whining rant online about how they don't get real letters any more:
You know what? No letters page this month. You know why? Because we aren't receiving enough real letters. We mainly get emails now, and people don't think when they write emails. They just pump them out, which makes them hard to reply to. We sat here and looked at like 50 emails we've gotten in the last couple days and it was really depressing. It's like trying to come back to a burp or a fart. What can you say? "Nice fart"? "Subpar belch, but try again"?

And we used to get great letters. They would arrive in decorated envelopes along with goofy little tokens, tchotchkes, gizmos, and gifts inside -- even cheap stuff like newspaper clippings or a photo or a drawing was nice. Now we just get retarded fucking emails...
I guess if that were the situation, I could see going out and soliciting better Letters to the Editor as well, but the fact is the whole Letters to the Editor concept seems pretty antiquated at this point. It was based on the premise that the magazine publishers and editors were the gatekeepers of the content, and if you didn't like it, you could potentially get your say in -- but only if they chose your comment out of a pile of others, and then it would likely be edited down anyway. It wasn't a conversation. It wasn't participation. It was letting the riff raff have their carefully moderated say as filler.

Of course, this sort of thinking can still be found in certain media industry folks who still pine for those "good old days" when people didn't really talk back. Witness a recent column in Toronto's Globe and Mail where the author trots out the tired complaints about bloggers that went out of style in 2004. It's the usual stuff about how most blogging is crappy, and how dare the riff raff think that they have a voice:
And now there is blogging, and comments. Readers may take 30 seconds to post a comment on a story or blog item that a writer dashed off in a minute. On The Globe website, our slogan is "Join the Conversation," but in the blogosphere, what follows isn't usually a conversation but a brief, ungrammatical shouting match. You can have more pensive chats in a bar fight.

And journalism wasn't meant to be a conversation, anyway. It was maybe a monologue, at its most democratic a carefully constructed dialogue. If readers didn't like or agree with the monologues in paper A, they bought paper B. What was most important about their opinions was that they thought enough to spend the coin.
There's also some nonsense about how people only have a finite number of things to say, and therefore you should save it for important publications like a magazine or a newspaper. In other words, please shut up and let us go back to telling you what's important. And then these old school media types wonder why we don't want to participate under their rules?

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