Letter: 50 words make a difference


To the Editor:

As a writer and freelance editor who had early training in journalism, it came as a distressing surprise to find out that two historical Vermont newspapers have each reduced their word limit of letters to the editor. The Rutland Herald and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, where the limit had been 300 words, now require 250 words or less. To put that in perspective, the Bennington Banner's word limit for letters is 400 words.

Just as some states are actively preventing people from voting (New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Georgia, among others), limiting the people's voices in our communities is, it seems to me, against our First Amendment right to free speech.

I'm of a ripe-enough age to know the lifelong pleasure — and necessity — of the local newspaper as part of my daily routine. Unfortunately, others who live in "local news deserts," are not as lucky anymore:

"About 20 percent of all metro and community newspapers in the United States — about 1,800 — have gone out of business or merged since 2004, when about 9,000 were being published. Hundreds more have scaled back coverage so much that they've become what the researchers call `ghost newspapers.' Almost all other newspapers still publishing have also scaled back, just less drastically. Online news sites, as well as some TV newsrooms and cable access channels, are working hard to keep local reporting alive, but these are taking root far more slowly than newspapers are dying. Hence the 1,300 communities that have lost all local coverage." (Source: https://www.poynter.com/news)

The difference of 50 words may not seem like much, but Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed recently for the right to that difference. Last Thanksgiving Khashoggi gave thanks "Because I have become free, and I can write freely." Less than a year later he was brutally tortured and murdered, likely because he was now able to write against the corruptions of the Saudi regime.

Fifty words isn't a lot, especially when held up against someone's life. But Khashoggi, Daniel Pearl, and countless other journalists gave — and are prepared to give — their lives for the freedom to write those 50 words. Kudos to the Bennington Banner for providing enough space for the community's diverse opinions and words to be heard, especially in this current tense political climate, to keep us connected and out of the desert.

Genie Rayner,



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