Star Opinion Editor Sarah Gassen: How we decide which COVID-19 letters to publish, and which we won't
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Star Opinion Editor Sarah Gassen: How we decide which COVID-19 letters to publish, and which we won't

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer: 

How are you doing?

And how has what you do changed?

From inside what feels like a long stretch of sameness created by the total upheaval of daily life, the changes are subtle, but they’re there.

I’m talking to birds (more), issuing out-loud advice to dove couples trying to be, shall we say, romantic: Sure, the frond part of the palm tree looks solid, but you’re never going to be able to land on it the way you hope.

My at-home work day still begins with coffee but I’ve added music and what I’ve described to Olivia the wiener dog as our “Afro-Cuban Standing-Desk Editing Dance Party.”

Olivia, for her part, is perfecting her “There are only two of us in this room, but I can still make you step over me” technique. She’s been developing this for years — it’s only lately that I’ve been home 24/7 to hold up my end of the demonstration.

Many of the changes affect how we at the Arizona Daily Star have been doing our jobs since the onset of COVID-19, and I’d like to share how what we’re doing in the Star Opinion section has changed, too.

We’ve started holding online “Star Opinion Reader Chats” on Thursdays at 2 p.m. The Opinion staffers — writer and podcast producer Edward Celaya, cartoonist and columnist David Fitzsimmons, news assistant and letters wrangler Sara Brown, and yours truly — answer your questions, pose some of our own and we have a thoroughly enjoyable hourlong visit.

We’ve had three chats so far and they’ve been fun and interesting conversations. I always appreciate putting a face to a name, especially when I’ve corresponded with someone over email or know them through their letters to the editor or guest opinion submissions.

If you’d like to join us, please send me an email at sgassen@tucson.com and I will email the Zoom link for that week.

I’ve mentioned before that the Arizona Daily Star is one of the few news outlets in the country that has a thriving letters to the editor section — a fact I’m proud to share with colleagues who complain they get only a few letters a week at their publications.

We publish almost every letter online at tucson.com/opinion and we typically publish a full page of letters in print. We’ve been deluged with submissions, which is a great problem to have, but it means we can run behind in processessing letters and posting them online or in print.

For example, as I’m writing this around noon on Friday we’ve already received 22 letters for the day. Those won’t be processed until at least Monday. Letters aren’t simply published in order they’re received, we put together each day’s letters to be a reflection of what people are talking about and what we’re receiving.

We are committed to publishing as many letters as possible, but not at the expense of scientific accuracy or public safety.

For this reason we won’t publish letters or guest opinion pieces that contain false equivalencies, untrue information about COVID-19 or possible treatments, or outdated or misleading information.

We make these decisions based on facts, not the writer’s opinion. There is a difference between, for example, ‘I think the risk is worth it and we should re-open the economy’ and ‘young people aren’t as affected by COVID-19 so they can go back to normal life and still be safe, only the elderly need to stay home.’

The first example is a recognition of facts — there is a risk — and includes an opinion. The second is based on an untrue statement that young people are safe from the virus and only older people need to stay home.

We also won’t publish submissions that seek to minimize the danger of COVID-19 based on misleading comparisons between numbers other causes of death, for example the flu, because it’s comparing apples and oranges. The science and reality of this pandemic are more complicated than comparing only numbers.

I don’t expect everyone to undersand or agree, which is why I’m explaining what we’re doing here, in public.

Our obligation is to the truth, to the facts, and to the safety of our community.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen is the Star's Opinion editor. Email her at sgassen@tucson.com and follow her on Facebook.

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