Star-Ledger stops publishing online LTE’s – another nail in its inevitable coffin

By Scott St. Clair | The Save Jersey Blog

Tom Moran’s confession that NJ.com, the online version of The (Newark) Star-Ledger, no longer publishes letters to the editor didn’t come as a great surprise. After all, a new one hadn’t gone up since Jan. 1, so the handwriting was on the wall. Another line in its forthcoming obituary can be penned.

Still, getting confirmation from Moran, the paper’s editorial page editor, made it official. That it took a pulling-teeth-from-a-tiger effort also made it irritating, but typical. Candor is a rare commodity everywhere in New Jersey whether in government or the media.

Because I’ve been a serial writer of LTE’s for many years, my antennae were up and sensing a change when nothing new was published on their website for several weeks and my last several never saw the light of day (I’ve consistently batted a better-than-Major-League .400 published-to-submitted average).

That the print edition now averages but two letters per day on some days per week (none on Sunday) was also a clue. You would think that a paper would lust in its heart for more free content instead of the softball stuff it publishes. Guess not.

After the better part of two months with no new ones online, I investigated. My first effort foretold what I would eventually find. The phone number to discuss online content published by The Star-Ledger in November 2014 was disconnected. Somebody forget to pay the bill?

Next, I emailed Len Melisurgo, identified as The Star-Ledger’s online editor, asking whether the letters-to-the-editor department had gone out of business. The email immediately bounced back as undeliverable. Uh oh – now I’m batting 0-fer.

While Melisurgo apparently remains on the paper’s payroll, he’s identified as a weather reporter, not the online editor. Read his most recent weather article here. He’s also active on LinkedIn which speaks for itself.

Figuring that it was time to skip further ladder-climbing, I went to the top by reaching out to Tom Moran. To his credit, he responded quickly enough, but what he said left a lot to be desired. Forwarding the email originally sent to Melisurgo, I asked why LTE’s weren’t being published since the solicitation and dissemination of a broad cross section of reader thought and opinion on the news of the day was a critical role of a vibrant newspaper. Here’s his underwhelming response:

We run letters online, and in print on occasion. Email with 200 word limit to eletters@starledger.com

I agree with your sentiment. We no longer have the space, though. Yes, tough times.”

Yeah well, times are tough all over. But the fact of the matter is letters are NOT being published, and I told him so:

No, you don’t run letters online – the NJ.com website hasn’t had a new Star-Ledger letter since January 1. Check it out: http://topics.nj.com/tag/letters-to-the-editor/

And you would have the space if you devoted less of it to your columns and (Paul) Mulshine’s and more to what readers think. Like government spending, it’s not a question of inadequate funding or that the taxpayers aren’t robbed enough, but rather it’s prioritizing what you have and making do with it.

I’ve written and had published beaucoups LTE’s over the years, but these days what’s the point since so few, if any, see the light of day. If you want to discourage your readers and cause them to stop buying your paper or perusing your website, that’s a good way to do it.” (Emphasis added)

Finally, he was forced to admit to what anyone paying attention already knew: He didn’t know what was going on at his own newspaper…

You’re right, we don’t print letters online anymore. I’m told they had very small readership actually, so I doubt that explains our slow demise here. Any case, invite you to join the comments under each story. They do print letters in the paper, but not many. You can keep trying if you like, electors@starledger.com

Sorry I can’t give you back a better report. Thanks for reaching out.”

Thanks for the candor, Tom – finally. Admitting that you no longer care what your readers think at least lets them know where they stand. And thanks for the encouragement to “keep trying if you like,” but somehow I don’t think letters sent to electors@starledger.com are going to anywhere but the nether regions of cyberspace hell since the correct address is eletters@starledger.com. But at least you tried, too.

For years I’ve watched and chronicled the demise of newspapers both as reporters of the events of the day and as a business. Frankly, much of the misery they’ve suffered is self-inflicted, a fact that, when I point it out to them, irritates many in that biz who think theirs is a calling holier than Mother Theresa’s loftiest dream.

The Star-Ledger’s abandonment of its role as a facilitator for a robust exchange of viewpoints is the latest symptom in the terminal illness of the newspaper game. If all you offer is cursory reporting of the news, an editorial slant that finds no fault with the Democratic Party and no virtue in Gov. Chris Christie, the same two or three in-house editorial columnists and a sports section that is more bread-and-circuses entertainment than journalism then you’re taking up space being nothing to nobody.

If there’s a journalism hospice, The Star-Ledger should be in it sooner, because there won’t be any later.

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