I recently received a letter from a reader that started like this: "Dear Alison Berber."
Actually, my last name is Gerber. But you can call me anything as long as you keep reading the paper.
And letters are one of the best ways I can tell that people are reading. They're an important gauge that helps me judge the depth of interest in our newspaper. And that's true whether they're positive or negative, grammatically perfect or spelling challenged.
If readers aren't reacting to what we print, it's a sign they may not be reading what we print. And that's frightening to those of us who believe that what we do is important to our community, our society, our lives. There's a familiar saying that "Knowledge is power," and part of newspapers' goal is to give that power to readers.
So when someone takes the time to type out an email with their thoughts about the paper, it means something.
Interesting, funny, provocative and sometimes angry letters regularly pop into my inbox, including recent ones such as:
• A history lesson from a native Chattanoogan informed me that the Sheraton Read House building was built in 1926, not 1947 as we'd printed, and that the oldest Chattanooga organization of any kind still going is the First Presbyterian Church, which dated back to 1840.
• A letter writer stated that recent crime coverage "has had me reading the front page before starting my day with a smile perusing the funnies, which is my norm."
The same letter writer also wrote: "I can't wait to read David Scott's columns! ... His human interest stories are just incredible."
Yes, they are. But his name is David Cook.
Still, as long as you are reading.
• A less-satisfied reader wrote in to ask about coverage of his community.
"Have you discontinued coverage of Marion County?" he asked. "I no longer see any news or events in the paper for my area."
The Times Free Press now circulates in all or part of about 30 counties in four states and we have a limited amount of space in our print publication. We also have to balance our reporters across that area. We try to do our best and are genuinely sorry when a reader feels like we've let him or her down.
But message received: Look out for more Marion stories.
• Another letter, from a retired coach, said prep football "would not be the same in this area" without coverage from the Times Free Press.
"As a way of illustrating my feeling let me go back to my coaching years when each year I would get a letter and questionnaire from the Atlanta Journal Constitution asking me what they could do better in covering high school sports in Georgia. For so many years, each time I would simply answer. 'Subscribe to the Chattanooga Free Press (and, in later years,) Times Free Press for one year and you will be educated in the fine art of covering prep sports.' ''
Thanks for those kind words, coach.
• Several readers have written or called in to express their thought on reporter Judy Walton's six-day series on financial improprieties and professional allegations against law enforcement officials and district attorneys in the 10th Judicial District. "Thanks to Ms. Walton," one man said. "That's all."
Walton spent seven months investigating the judicial district that covers Bradley, Monroe, McMinn and Polk and District Attorney Steve Bebb. If you missed them, you can read her stories at timesfreepress.com/justice.
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If you haven't had time to browse through our two-section magazine Glimpse, which published with Friday's paper, be sure to check out the website.
You'll find maps, photos and details on 54 towns in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina as well as a ton of information about pastimes that range from hiking and climbing to leaf peeping and the Civil War sesquicentennial.
Online, you'll also find an interactive map that makes it easy to plan one-day trips to the communities sprinkled across this picturesque region.
Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfree press.com. Send suggestions to readerfeedback@timesfree press.com.