Boston Globe to ban form letters from advocacies

BOSTON: The Boston Globe will soon take steps to fortify its pages against one of the tools of advocacy groups in the internet age: the prefabricated e-mail.

BOSTON: The Boston Globe will soon take steps to fortify its pages against one of the tools of advocacy groups in the internet age: the prefabricated e-mail.

Four times since October has the paper mistakenly published such e-mails, signed by independent citizens but written and distributed by groups such as the Republican National Committee or the National Organization for Women as "letters to the editor." When editors saw identical letters published in other papers around the country, they apologized to their readers and announced an initiative to screen out further missives.

"From now on, any letters that aren't in response to a particular article - ones that just say, 'George Bush is a great guy' - will be a red flag," said letters editor Glenda Buell. Letters that fit the description, she said, will be run through the internet in search of matches, and senders will be called to verify that they are the original authors.

But critics say the policy unfairly silences a mode of expression more conducive to a society in which citizens don't always have time to compose letters.

"Just because a person doesn't write the letter doesn't make the opinion any less valid," said Shane Kinkennon, VP of PR for Grassroots Enterprise, an online advocacy firm. "It's unfortunate that they would choose to single this out."

Mike McCurry, CEO of Grassroots Enterprise and former press secretary to President Bill Clinton, was quoted in the Globe as responding, "Grow up and join the internet age."

Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlud acknowledged the validity of her critics' arguments, but said they were "trumped by the slippery slope of turning what is now a forum for heartfelt personal views into bulletin boards for public-interest organizations."

She added that she received several dozen e-mails since writing a column announcing the initiative. "About 5%-10% were negative," she estimated, "but most said, 'Thank you for keeping the letters page authentic.'"

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