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Cut-and-Paste Opinion-Making

Chicago Reader: The Public Sentiment Machine. Not long ago a letter to the editor required three things: time, an idea, and the ability to put it into words. All three impediments have been swept away. Once American bedrock, today a letter to the editor is often a chunk of computer-generated boilerplate.

This practice indicts almost everyone involved: the organizations that gin up semi-phony public sentiment; the letter “writers” who cut and paste what they’re told to say; and the newspapers that print the letters without serious due diligence.

Yet it’s easy to see how they slip through, and not so easy to know how to stop them.

Maybe the newspaper editorial-page editors should work with a school of journalism (or computer science department, or both) to create a search-and-discover engine with the sole purpose of finding these things before they appear in the papers. There would be some human involvement, but a lot of this could be automated.

If I were an editorial page editor, I’d start a special column devoted solely to naming the readers who send these cut-and-paste letters. It might cause people to reconsider.

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