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Turf: a threat, or just a little sport?

THE MASTHEAD symposium has two inspirations:

* NCEW's past president, John Taylor, suggested last winter that we focus on this topic in The Masthead and provide a follow-up program at the convention in Chicago.

* Your editor has thought for some time that we, individually and organizationally, are not treating the phony letters situation with all the seriousness that a threat of this gravity warrants.

Phony letters have been a concern, more or less, for several years. Yet serious discussion has been lacking on whether a member of our assembly, much less the NCEW leadership, should protest to the organizations that encourage, facilitate, and in some cases even reward this nefarious practice. Maybe it should happen. Maybe it shouldn't. But a little discussion doesn't seem to be out of line.

It seems to some of us that it's time to abandon the sporting spirit and begin to regard these phony letters as a coordinated campaign to compromise the integrity of our pages by flooding them with mass-produced letters--letters that advance a partisan, commercial, or ideological agenda. The producers of these letters don't care about the grassroots integrity of our letters columns, as Gil Cranberg so eloquently defends them (on page 10). Rather, these people are out to make us the vehicles of their canned opinions.

The Masthead has written about turf before. Now it's time to elevate a sense of urgency. Organizations and activists Out There are laughing at us. Just look at their websites, where they count coup, chortling as they list our newspapers--by name--when we are dumb enough to publish yet another of their free advertisements. And, as Carolyn Nielsen points out on page 8, a relatively small portion of the nation's editorial pages has the advantages of the listserv as an early-warning system.

We hope at least that this symposium provokes thought and discussion--especially between now and Chicago. Would it be so terrible for NCEW, at its business meeting, or at the board meeting, to debate a resolution condemning turf and make sure a letter of protest goes to all known purveyors of this fraud?

One alternative is to continue to regard these cons as isolated occurrences that make for good sporting fun--at least in those cases where the few who have access to the listserv are able to sidetrack a letter in time to prevent our being made once again to look foolish. But how often is that?

turf/terf [turf] n. pl. turfs, also turves [turvz]--[:"astroturf" for phony grassroots]--[NCEW jargon ca 2000]--a letter submitted to a newspaper for publication as part of a campaign to influence public opinion with mass-produced letters under the false pretense that each has been written by a reader of the newspaper
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Title Annotation:Editor's Note
Publication:The Masthead
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 22, 2004
Previous Article:Nancy Q. Keefe: crusader with a mischievous twinkle.
Next Article:It's a cheap form of propaganda: now they are offering prizes to people who trick newspapers into publishing fake letters.

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