How a small-town paper is applying conflict mediation skills to its opinion content


Our small, community newspaper in rural New Hampshire has always stuck to its philosophy of printing as many letters to the editor from readers as possible. Ed Engler, one of the Laconia Daily Sun’s founders, first editor, and former mayor of the city, prided himself on publishing almost every letter he’s received over the 20-year history of the paper.

However, during the Jewish holiday of Passover last year, we received a letter to the editor that denied the Holocaust ever happened.

Worse yet, the writer of the letter wasn’t a new name to us, nor around the state. He had publicly announced his intent to run for public office, a factor that we weighed heavily in our discussion on whether to publish his letter. The decision wasn’t arrived at lightly, but our philosophy remained front and center. We printed it.

Outrage and disappointment followed, at us and at the fact that someone held these views and wanted to share them with others. It was painful evidence that Engler’s commitment to publishing as many letters as possible was no longer advancing a healthy dialogue among readers, if it ever had.

The letter hadn’t, unfortunately, come out of the blue. It was an example, albeit extreme, of the increase in animosity we were seeing in submissions to the opinion pages. In our increasingly divided community, we had to take a hard look at how we could become part of the solution.

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