Whew! The letters have been coming in fast and furious on "the income tax issue." And it couldn't come at a better time, right? We're all primed this time of year to hate the faceless bureaucrats who require tedious hours of forms-filling-out so that we can get back or keep a few dollars more of what we've worked so hard for.
It started with Taxes columnist Warren Salomon's January number, in which he advised that we should all forget about finding any legal loophole by which to get out of handing over money by the fistful to the feds. "The secret phrase to utter in Tax Court that will make the IRS lawyers run in panic," he declared, "is nothing but a pipe dream."
Well, that got a lot of you readers hopping mad, not surprisingly, given your understanding of what's right and wrong in this world. In came the letters, one of which was published in the March issue with attorney Salomon's reply. In came more letters; you'll find a sampling beginning on page 8. And they're still coming.
Letters to the editor are great. Imagine you're one of the editors of a magazine. You spend most of your time in one place, wherever your office is located. You have a certain amount of contact with your free-lance authors, who are flung across the country, even the globe. And some of your writers are your readers, and vice versa. But with readers as such you have very little two-way contact.
There are only two routes of feedback from readers: they either renew their subscriptions or they don't, telling you something about what your readers think of the magazine, but only in an aggregate way; or they take pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and tell you what they think, usually about particular pieces. For you, the editor, letters from readers are vital. They're direct and concrete. They're tangible. They're individual. They have personality. They're wonderful.
Sometimes there aren't enough of them. That is, still imagining yourself in an editor's shoes, you put out something especially interesting, profound, provocative, beautiful, whatever, and you hear…nothing. Silence from your readers. Was your judgment off? Did your readers pass it right by? Are they all busy this month? You'll never know. You must go on soliciting, preparing, and publishing what you figure will inform your readers, enlighten them, prod them to rethink an issue, reaffirm their deeply held values, delight them, or amuse and bemuse them, knowing that they'll usually only write if they have a bone to pick.
And sometimes what you get then is a cancellation letter, which magazines of opinion, such as REASON, probably receive more often than un-opinion magazines from Antic to Zip. We had some over a piece in January praising "the full joy of responsible human sexuality." We have some almost every time we publish something suggesting that immigration is not all that bad for the country. We've had some over the great income tax debate. We haven't yet started getting letters on the April cover story on the Reagan administration's campaign against pornography, but we know we might lose some readers on that one.
As an editor, one never accepts such cancellations with diffidence; one wishes that readers would hang in there for everything else in the magazine they find of value. But for some people, it's an important way to take a stand.
Most heartening are the occasional letters, often from brand-new subscribers, full of enthusiasm for REASON. Most distressing, perhaps, are letters from astute readers who've caught an error in our pages—from a misplaced decimal in a number to a Trends item where the sources we relied on didn't have the story straight. It doesn't happen very often, we're proud to say; but when it does happen, it humbles us as editors.
Sometimes readers remind us to keep them in mind in little ways. Several of you who wrote in a few months ago about the layout of Global Trends within the Trends department probably expressed the frustration of many readers. It spurred us to do something about a situation we'd noticed ourselves.
So your letters go individually unanswered—they must, or you wouldn't get a magazine every month. And they can't all get published—or there wouldn't be much else in the magazine every month. But they don't by any means go unnoticed. So keep them coming. "Communicate with REASON" (and yes, the pun is fully intended).
P.S. REASON's special double issue this year, for those of you who keep track of such things, will be an August-September issue instead of June-July.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Up Front: Dear Editors...".