Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
One thing I like about The Japan Times is that it is short and to the point, with a satisfactory cross-section of news and views from home and abroad. With just 22-pages it is easy to carry around and over the course of the day I read most of it. Well, not the ridiculous wastage of sports which, properly speaking, rates as a big zero on the mental radar of intelligent people, but most of the rest of it, anyway.
I hate to see inserts in the newspaper, because if anything is that important then space should be made for it within the body of the publication to begin with. I think inserts pander to people who don’t know how to use a newspaper. I mean, those do not know how to find information, or forgot how to find it, or who were just never taught how to find it, thus requiring information to be specially separated and handed to them like a mother feeding her baby, or a nurse attending an invalid. Those few inserts that occasionally come along find there way immediately into my rubbish bin, sometimes with an accompanying curse to cement my condemnation of their depravity, and sometimes rent in two to announce my judgment with authority. So I disagree with Ami Shukla’s eulogy of“thick and colorful pull-out” sections that appear in the weekend editions of some papers (“Beef-up basic content,” April 24th). The last thing readers need is a 100-page newspaper (on weekends or any other day), and as for The Japan Times I find the basic content just fine - for now.
Published on Thursday, May 1, 2008 as “Short and to the point.”
I laughed aloud when I saw and read this, moved by the giddy feeling of success - my fourth Japan Times letter of this calendar year. Except for deleting the hyphen near the end of the letter, and creating a new ending paragraph by indenting the words “So I disagree…,” it was re-printed without change. This letter is part of a wave of letters from readers commenting on the newspaper’s recent new look. The Japan Times changed its font style, print size, plus a few other cosmetic changes meant to make the paper more “user friendly.” The visual change is immediately apparent, but it’s not great, which shows how big a difference small changes can make.
Accompanying the cosmetic changes has been a change in the manner of submitting Letters to the Editor by computer. It took me a while to notice it, and when I did I worried that some of my letters E-mailed to the old opinion@japantimes address were iscarded, lost and useless. The last couple of letters I have faxed from the convenience store according to instructions - a technological step down from E-mail. It appears now that Online letters are now to be submitted directly through a website form, which suggests to me that letters have to be typed online rather than in offline leisure.
It is true that when inserts appear in the paper I quickly deposit them in the nearest convenient trash bin, but it is not true that I tear the paper to “announce my judgment with authority.” I thought the angry imagery of the language fit my mood.
Finally, while “insert” is a good and accurate word, I regret not using the word “supplement” as well.
This rebuttal letter was printed on Sunday, May 4, 2008, “Improve content, including letters” by M. Randolph of Kiryu, Gumna Prefecture that constituted a really nasty attack on me - not just my anti-supplement letter but on me personally.
There have been many letters recently about the appearance of the Japan Times because it changed its font style and size, plus some layout changes. Only cosmetic changes - made in the name of making the paper “better” or more “reader friendly” - but it has sparked a river of opinion on the merits of the paper and the merits of introducing changes to begin with - including my last letter, the one that was printed on May 1st.
“It has become clear to me also that The Japan Times needs to better screen its letters to the editor. It seems to have become a bully pulpit for the excessively opinionated, who delight in offering mere statements, with no supporting ideas or factual information to lead credence to their fatuous ideas.
“I’m afraid I must take exception to the letters of one Grant Piper. His letter published in the May 1 edition,“Short and to the point,” was simply too much. The pedantic nature of his writing, and the lack of supporting ideas, offer a poor example of how to write an opinion essay to the students of my university. Unsupported and unexplained phrases like “mental radar of intelligent people” and “my condemnation of their depravity” smack of a truly limited vision of the world.
“It is my firm belief that writers like this one would be better served by returning to an institution of higher education in their home country, so that they might learn how to more objectively present their ideas and, simultaneously, better serve the students they proffer to care about.”
I will not write a response. First because I do not want to. There is no profit in it. Second, because M. Randolph has his opinions and is entitled to them just as am I, and third, because the paper does not print running arguments any more like what they used to.
I have had great success writing letters to the editor, I think, because I write a good, concise letter, I follow the rules of submitting letters to the paper, and because I choose timely topics. My writing is provocative, which helps it to survive the letter vetting process by the paper’s editorial staff. What I write is not necessarily what I truly believe. A letter, after all, is a literary form. As for providing factual support for my statements I only suggest that a 300-word limit to letters does not lend itself to a proper essay.
Randolph’s letter is evidence of what I have long suspected, that there are readers who recognize my name and who hate my guts. “Oh, no! Not that Piper guy again!” But so what? Anyone can write a letter to the paper with alternate or opposing views and they can have their ideas printed if they follow the rules of submission, pick a timely topic, write a good, concise and provocative letter, etc. I have a right to my ideas, which does not mean that my ideas are right. And, to help separate me personally from the ideas that I write I chose to write in what Randolph calls a “pedantic nature.” It is meant to direct readers’ attention to the writing and away from me. But maybe that is impossible. It seems to be for M. Randolph, anyway. I create my own disappointment by cultivating excessive expectations.