What is the one feature of the paper readers either can't live with or can't live without?
If you guessed the Open Line, then I would say you are correct.
I receive more inquires about the Open Line - which can be accessed by calling 248-7041, ext. 160 - than any other item in The Sentinel.
Many subscribers tell me it is the first section of the paper they read each day. Others have asked when the feature will be discontinued because they feel that it shines a negative light on the community.
I agree that the Open Line often takes a negative tone. It isn't because The Sentinel fosters this attitude. It is because that is the stance many callers take when phoning in. They usually are upset about an issue and use the Open Line as a way to vent their frustration.
I wish more people would call the Open Line to express their thanks for a job well done or in appreciation for the positive activity that occurs in this community.
Unfortunately, I can't force people to call the Open Line any more than I can get others to stop phoning in comments that simply aren't appropriate and never will appear in print.
Open Line callers must note that The Sentinel does not guarantee comments will be published in the paper. First, there simply isn't enough space to do so. On some days, the Open Line may receive nearly 100 calls. On others, only a handful may call in. The comments always are screened, and only those that are appropriate are printed.
I'm often asked why a person's comments aren't printed. Here is a list of basic reasons why a callers' comments would NOT appear on this Opinion Page.
= A comment is libelous;
= We receive more comments than the space allows;
= Similar comments may be grouped together under a topic or question heading, and others are omitted from that day's batch of calls;
= A comment attacks a private citizen (Example: A caller may name a neighbor whose yard or property is believed to be in disrepair. Direct that type of complaint to the code enforcement officer, not the Open Line.)
= A comment promotes a specific business. (Example: One caller repeatedly has wanted to know where to purchase homemade tamales. Any business that makes this or any other product could unfairly benefit from such a call. The exception to this is if the call would benefit a nonprofit or community agency.)
= A comment complains about a specific business. (This is not the appropriate forum to air grievances about one's cable, radio, phone or other private programming or service. Call those or any other companies directly, or file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.)
= A comment threatens action against a person, business or organization. Such calls are forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
The truth is simple: Screening the Open Line isn't an exact science. Sometimes comments appear that shouldn't, and we address those instances on a case-by-case basis.
It is impossible to tell all callers why their comments don't see the light of day in The Sentinel. If your comment doesn't appear in the Open Line, you always are welcome to submit a signed letter to the editor. Include a phone number for verification purposes and so we can review any potential concerns we may have with regard to your letter's publication.
Not everyone likes the Open Line, nor will everyone agree with what is or isn't published. However, the Open Line does offer residents a way to anonymously phone in news tips. It also fosters discussion about topics readers feel are important or are the pulse of the community.
It is an often misunderstood component of the paper and one that undoubtedly will continue to spark.
Heather Goodwin Henline is managing editor of The Sentinel. She may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 248-6741, ext. 119.