Over the past few years the Sedona Red Rock News has began strictly enforcing our guidelines when it comes to letters to the editor, and particularly the length requirement.

Letters are required to be 300 words or less, and if they’re longer, I send them back to the author and ask him or her to revise the letter.

Since we began enforcing the letter’s length requirement, we’ve received many requests for us to make an exception for certain letters or to use the letter as a guest perspective.

When it comes to letter length, we rarely, if ever, allow a letter over 300 words to slip through making sure we treat everyone equally. If I allow one letter to run at 400 words I have numerous other writers calling for the same favor.

We developed the length requirement to ensure any resident who wants to be heard can do so. Long letters take up more space and force us to print fewer of letters.

In same cases, however, more than 300 words is needed to express an opinion or point of view on a topic that is important to the community. In those instances, we consider allowing a reader to submit a guest perspective.

Guest perspectives must first be approved by editorial staff before they will be considered for publication.

A letter over 300 words doesn’t necessarily warrant it as guest perspective.

When considering guest perspectives for publication several factors are evaluated including, but not limited to:

  • The author’s expertise in the area. Is the author a current or former elected official? Does the author work in the field in question?
  • Original content. Guest perspectives must offer new information and not be repetition of a previous guest perspective, staff article or column. We also require the author does not submit the piece for publication in any other venue.
  • Importance to the community. The value the residents will find in obtaining the information will be considered. Guest perspectives are not meant to be thank you letters or give credit to groups or individuals. The purpose is to discuss an issue and give an opinion.
  • Factual information. Documents supporting any number or statistics must be provided.
  • Submission frequency. Has the author already written a guest perspective on this topic or any other topic within the last few weeks? We will not print multiple guest perspectives by a singe individual within a short period of time. Editorial staff will use its discretion in determining when a reasonable amount of time has passed or whether the guest perspective is vital to public knowledge.

Our letters to the editor guidelines can be found on our website at www.redrocknews.com under “Submissions.”

Thanks to video games and processed foods, today’s children face a problem many of us didn’t worry about until we were adults.

To me as a child, weight was something they calculated each year in gym class and not something talked about much otherwise.

Today, it’s on the minds of those who deal with youth as America’s obesity epidemic infiltrates the younger generation.

Watching your weight was once something people didn’t normally worry about until they were adults and daily activity became less common.

However, today’s kids don’t get the same exercise those who grew up before them did.

Ad campaigns encourage children to play — as in ride bicycles or run around, not log onto a computer — for 30 minutes to an hour each day or to walk to school rather than take a ride.

Not to sound like my parents always did, but when I was a kid they had to beg us to come inside at the end of the day, not urge us to go out.

I’m a product of a video game generation, but my parents didn’t allow us to own any game systems. We had a television, but it only transmitted a few channels, and my mom was in charge of what was on. So unless we wanted to watch soap operas or law shows, television wasn’t going to entertain us.

Instead, my dad built us a tree house in the front yard, we rode our bicycles all over the neighborhood, and we played games and make-believe. Even in the winter my sister and I would suit up in our snow gear and head outside to hitch up the sled and drag it around the yard carrying our dolls — we were pioneers roughing it in the wild West.

Now, as an adult, my sense of adventure and desire to be outside carries through and in turn also helps me stay at a healthy weight now.

Some of today’s children do live the active lifestyle I and so many others did growing up, but the problem is the majority of them don’t.

Between video games, social networking websites and television, kids spend about as much time sitting on their backside as adults do at work. My neighborhood is full of children, but I rarely see any of them outside playing. I jog or bike through the streets at least a couple of times a week, and it’s rare if I encounter any kids.

There is a group of middle-school boys who ride their bicycles and explore vacant land, but even they only make an occasional appearance. Something is wrong when adults in the neighborhood are playing more than the children.

Add to the cocktail of inactivity diets full of processed lunch meats, white bread, potato chips and store-bought cookies, and it’s no wonder young people today have weight issues. I didn’t want to eat Brussels sprouts or broccoli when I was a kid either, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter.

The only way kids have a chance to stay fit and avoid health-related issues associated with obesity is to play more and eat better. Most children aren’t going to take the lead on their own. They need their parents, schools and communities to show them how to live a healthy lifestyle and teach them why it’s important.

At my house we joke it’s a good thing we don’t have kids, because they would think we were the meanest parents ever. We would ban video games, get rid of our television and limit computer time.

Three years ago the Sedona Fire District found itself in the very same situation it faces today.

When I looked back through my files to find the editorial I wrote last time SFD was looking for a chief, the date on the document was Sept. 12, 2008.

After reading through my 2008 editorial, I came to the conclusion the SFD Governing Board found who it was looking for when it hired former SFD Fire Chief Nazih Hazime, which, in a way, is where the problem lies.

Boards often change every two years, and even when a member stays on, he or she can quickly change his or her mind. Board Clerk Charles Christensen was a member of the board that hired Hazime.

It’s not unimaginable to consider whomever the current board hires may not meet the expectations of the next board, or that friction could arise based on working styles.

It’s usually not a problem with the chief’s qualifications, as head of the new fire chief selection committee Joe Demme claimed was the case with Hazime. If Hazime wasn’t qualified to be a chief, our neighboring fire district would not have watched his performance over the last two years and snatched him up as quickly as possible when he resigned from SFD.

The most qualified person can have a hard time working with any other individual or a group, which is why one person, or even five, should not be solely responsible for determining criteria for selection of a new chief.

The new chief will serve every resident in the district, not just the board and Demme.

SFD needs to ask district residents which qualities and standards they deem desirable. Allow comments to be made online and for comment cards to be dropped off at fire stations. It doesn’t have to take long. Give residents a week.

This is the task Demme’s selection committee should be in charge of — collecting public input and feedback to present to the board so it can post a job description and application on its website. Instead, Demme cut off public comment at committee meetings because he didn’t like a resident’s opinion voiced at meetings and published in a letter to the editor.

Demme’s recent remarks make it seem as if he is in charge of selecting a new chief. It’s admirable of Demme to donate so many hours free of charge to SFD despite losing his bid for a board seat; however, the voters made it clear he is not the guy they want leading their district.

Ultimately it will, or should, be up to the board to hire a new chief. The selection committee is a good idea as along as its members don’t overstep their bounds and residents are allowed to participate in the process.

It’s understandable why SFD resists listening to the public in what’s become a toxic environment on nearly all levels. However, both sides need to swallow a little pride and understand if they don’t tone it down and attempt to work together the chances of them attracting a quality candidate quickly diminish. Nobody in his or her right mind would jump into the sea of sharks our district has become.

Trista Steers MacVittie

Managing Editor

If you line up 15 random Sedona residents and ask them which local issue is most important to them, you’re bound to get many different answers.

Some residents are entrenched in the fight over streetlights and ownership of State Route 89A in West Sedona. If you ask residents on either side of the debate, this is the most important decision facing Sedona with regard to the city’s future.

Others feel development of the new Sedona Community Plan trumps all other news at this time. The plan will serve as a guide for the city for at least 10 years.

Regarding city of Sedona business, many are rallying around the Sedona Fire District. From a recall effort to arguing over where to cut spending and taxes to whether to build an additional fire station in the Chapel area, this one agency sponsors a host of issues to upset and divide the people.

Then, when it rains, the people in the Little Elf neighborhood are rightfully upset as their properties flood and they again clean up their yards.

Each one of these groups feels their issue towers above all others and deserves the most coverage.

I receive phone calls daily from people telling us we need more coverage of SFD, streetlights or the community plan.

I also receive just as many phone calls from people saying they are sick of hearing about decisions made by the SFD Governing Board — many of which result in nothing — they’re sick and tired of the streetlight debate, or they think the community plan is boring.

Some people prefer to read Lu Stitt’s feature stories about the talented individuals who live in our communities rather than stories detailing the controversies dividing us.

The point is, whatever issue you think we aren’t covering enough, there is an equal opposition begging for us to stop plastering the same faces across the front page in what they say is “week after week.”

We try to find new angles to cover old issues to keep streetlight and SFD folks satisfied while also looking for new stories to engage others.

Reporter Patrick Whitehurst, who is often stuck writing all the repetitive hard-news stories, was excited for the chance to do something different this week and write about Banned Books Week. Books are what is important to Whitehurst. That’s what he would like to see us cover more often.

The same goes for our letters to the editor page. We try to give everyone a chance to voice their opinion.

However, we are a newspaper and not a newsletter, which means our letters page is only one small part of our product as a whole. And in that small component, we try not to let any one issue or one person dominate the page. This, too, is the source of angry phone calls and letters from people insisting their opinion about their chosen cause is worthy of exception and should not be required to follow rules and requirements.

We understand almost everything happening in Sedona is important, but it’s our job to juggle all issues and find a balance in our coverage.

So when you call to either complain we are ignoring you or demand we stop covering the other issues, remember we’ve most likely already received a stern talking to or email from your counterpart.

A media law conference at Harvard Law School last week refreshed my memory regarding traditional journalism rules and offered insight as to how online standards are taking shape.

Copyright, defamation and the First Amendment always make an appearance whenever law with regard to the Fourth Estate is discussed.

A balancing act occurs to ensure all three of these principles are maintained and respected during news gathering.

The law grants newspapers the right to print uncensored material; however, a newspaper cannot defame an individual by knowingly printing untruths.

Once a newspaper publishes a story, copyright laws protect it from being published in its entirety by anybody else — be it in print form or online.

Fair use, or the notion a person cannot “own” a fact, muddies the water a bit and causes the rules to blur to a shade of gray.

A person can take the facts from a news story and reuse them as long as they are repackaged and represented in a different manner.

A person cannot take a story, opinion, column or photo and reproduce it in the exact same format in a different venue.

So, you can’t cut an article out of the newspaper, scan it and post it on your website. Instead, a person can either read the story and comment on its contents or link to the story if it’s available on the newspaper’s website.

The nuts and bolts of laws governing our profession usually only concern the general public when it feels it has suffered defamation or a person receives a letter stating he or she is in violation of copyright laws.

However, the rights granted to the news media also apply to residents when it comes to access to information or places.

The average resident possesses the same rights as a reporter to view court files, zoning documents, police reports or any other public government document. The average resident is permitted to seek information in all the same venues as a reporter — government-owned public property.

Residents don’t normally exercise these rights because they aren’t sure how or they don’t have the time, which is why they rely on us, the journalists, to do it for them.

When it comes to laws and regulations governing online content and websites, the foundation is just being built.

Copyright laws apply as do fair use standards, the First Amendment and defamation.

A website is responsible for content it generates in the same way a newspaper is for the words it prints on a page.

Comments, or content generated by someone not employed by the news organization, however, are not the responsibility of the news organization, and it cannot be held accountable for content of comments.

While we now know we’re off the hook legally when it comes to comments, it doesn’t mean we plan to stop monitoring them for decency.

It seems most everything we do today is dictated by legislation, and it’s important to know which laws may apply to your activities. Many people get themselves into trouble not knowing such laws, particularly when it comes to untrained news gatherers.

Media law, however, cannot be confused with media ethics, also often ignored by the untrained. Law can be taught, ethics cannot.

Trista Steers MacVittie

Managing Editor

Visionaries in Sedona and the Verde Valley think it is possible to diversify our local economy.

Rather than rely solely on tourism to bring jobs and tax dollars into our communities, they are looking for an industry capable of supporting itself while also possibly attracting visitors to the area.

These entrepreneurs are turning to the vine to create new business and jobs.

Several vineyards now operate in the Verde Valley and off-site tasting rooms are popping up in the communities.

Since last year, the nectar from the vines produced in Northern Arizona has drawn more attention.

The return of the Sedona Winefest on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 24 and 25, signals the blossoming of an industry just budding last year.

Vineyards from around Arizona participate in the festival, and last year’s crowd was quite possibly the largest I’ve seen at an event in Sedona since I moved to the Verde Valley five years ago.

The event takes place at the Sedona Airport where the first 1,800 attendees will receive a commemorative wine glass. All participants receive six taste tickets. Wine drinkers will also be able to purchase wine by the case, bottle and glass from participating vineyards.

Take a trip up to the airport and see where the future of Arizona wine is headed.

Cheers to a fruitful future for the Verde Valley.

When the city of Sedona or any other government entity attempts to make changes in Sedona, people come out of the woodwork to protest and demand to be heard.

However, now that it’s time to put together a new Sedona Community Plan, the very framework future decisions will be based on, the Citizens Steering Committee hears only crickets.

The normal faces are present. Some Sedona residents are involved in everything, and they appear to understand the plan’s importance when it comes to where Sedona will go from here.

The small pool of interested residents lacks youth as well.

The plan will shape the community where people in their 20s and 30s will raise their children and make a living.

This demographic, while often the busiest, needs to step up if it wants to mold its city’s future.

Residents won’t have a chance to form a new plan for a decade.

State law mandates the plan be updated every 10 years.

The community plan sets a framework for future councils and staff to determine land use within the city limits and sets priorities for the community.

Changes midplan aren’t taken lightly. Since 2002, only four amendments have been made to Sedona’s current plan. Amendments have to be reviewed by staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission, and approved by the Sedona City Council.

Involvement is the only way to create change, and waiting until an issue or problem is bearing down on the city isn’t the right time to get involved.

Residents who don’t take time now to voice their opinions won’t have any right to complain later when a decision is made that falls in line with the plan’s guidelines for the community.

The opportunity is now, so either seize it or let others determine what’s best for your city.

See Page 2B of the Wednesday, Sept. 21, issue of the Sedona Red Rock News for future dates of Community Plan meetings.

After more than six months of getting to know each other and spending afternoons biking, playing hockey and watching movies, my Little Sister told me Monday, Sept. 12, she is moving at the beginning of October.

I’m happy for her and her family, and she appears to be excited about the move — teenagers always want something new and different — but I’m saddened we’ll lose the bond we built and began to expand upon.

When I signed up to be a part of Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters last winter, I never anticipated I would enjoy the time I dedicated to the program as much as I did.

I remember telling the counselor who interviewed me it wasn’t about me —I didn’t volunteer for personal gain.

My sole purpose was to offer a little support and guidance to a young girl who may be looking for it.

My Little and the experiences we shared exceeded my expectations, and I’m sad to see her go.

We easily found common ground. She’s a bit of a tomboy, and I was too growing up. We’d rather be outside biking, skating or running than participating in activities deemed “normal” for a girl.

We found many similarities between the two of us, down to our sandwich choice, and each time my Little pointed one out, I felt the bond grow stronger.

In the few months we spent together we learned to get along and trust each, and we became friends.

She loved my dogs, and my husband joined in our fun on occasion teaching my Little how to in-line skate and a few new chords on the guitar.

We spent many afternoons engaged in good old-fashioned fun, but other times we focused our attention in more serious ways and she seemed to respond. We picked apricots from my yard, and I taught her how to make jam. I helped her with her algebra homework dusting off some of my old skills. We talked about her future, attending college and what she needs to do to get there.

Now, in less than a month, we’ll be separated by nearly the entire continent. We’ve already talked about keeping in touch, and I hope we actually do exchange emails or letters.

When my Little leaves, I’ve decided I need to take a break before I’m ready for a new one. My Little became more than a volunteer project. She became my friend.

Eventually, I’ll be ready to try again, but it will be hard, if not impossible, to build another bond similar to what I share now with my Little. I was very lucky to find what Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters called “a very good match,” and I hope my Little took as much away from the experience as I did.

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