Friday, October 30, 2009

Dear Sir, I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms

SIR – I find it intensely humiliating to be asked by airport security staff if I have packed my own bag. This forces one to admit, usually within earshot of others, that I no longer have a manservant to do the chore for me. Gentlemen should be able to answer such questions with a disdainful: "Of course not! Do I look like that sort of person?"

Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume, Guildford, Surrey

This letter was even good enough to make it into the Telegraph's letters page; but fear not. There's a book out of unpublished letters to the editor.

The thing I like about letters to the editor is that they are an early example of what is know called "user generated content" - a phrase beloved of the spivs, charlatans and bullshitters who distressingly dominate the debate about how the media can adapt to new technology. It's also a good way of building a community and enhancing the value of your brand and all the rest of it.

There's a paradox at the heart of the letters page: one the one hand the wit and intellect of the readers can vastly surpass that of the journalists. On the other hand, the enormous number of cranks, nutters, bigots, bores and weirdos there are out there: you need to ruthlessly filter them all out; which is why the letters editors' job is such an interesting one. To use Private Eye shorthand, the Guardian needs to dilute the Dave Sparts and Mike Gigglers to a palatable level; ditto the Sir Herbert Gussets and Thatcher worshippers in the Telegraph.

It's a good example of why you need people to edit stuff, even online. You'd have thought that some of these skill can be brought to bear on internet journalism; they probably will be as soon as people learn to ignore the utopians who believe the internet will change everything. You don't want everything to be like Twitter, after all.

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