There’s no doubt that the process of writing letters to the editor has changed significantly in recent decades. While it was once the exclusive domain of the pen or the typewriter, it is doubtful whether, in the second decade of the 21st century, more than a minuscule number of submissions ever find themselves acquainted with an envelope.

Likewise, methods of reader interaction are also shifting. Many online news stories and opinion pieces now allow readers to post comments underneath, providing an instant, if slightly more casual, method of feedback. Still, there appears to be enough people willing to have their say through the more traditional means — or, so it seemed.

In April 18’s Sunday Age, a letter with my name attached was published — a few paragraphs in response to an opinion piece from the previous weekend’s issue on why we loathe hirsuteness. What is specifically peculiar about this is that it was not actually a letter at all, at least in the generally understood sense. This was an online comment that, following an email from the production editor seeking my permission and contact details, found its way into the letters to the editor section.

On further inspection, I was not alone. One more letter out of the 15 in the edition had been sourced from an online comment on an opinion piece. While there is no reason to suspect that anything improper has taken place, it does raise the question: is this now common practice? And, if so, why?

One possibility is that both the quantity and quality of letters are declining, and editors are finding themselves forced to turn to the internet to fill space. Or, perhaps, it could simply be a case of a creative editor thinking outside the box; either way, this appears to be yet another small step away from traditional print conventions as news organisations struggle, successfully or otherwise, to adapt to the age of the internet.

What this means for the future of the letters to the editor section is unclear. Feedback is no less an attribute of the internet newspaper than the print newspaper, but the concept of a selection of a small number of well-written letters and regular, identifiable contributors may soon be a thing of the past. Instead, it seems likely that it will be replaced with a wider variety of viewpoints, expressed eloquently and otherwise, by an array of essentially anonymous pseudonyms. There are both benefits and disadvantages to this scenario; but it is unlikely that appeals to tradition will be enough to stop it being realised.

While some may mourn the loss of these institutions, the print media’s increasing dependence on the internet can neither be ignored nor reversed. In that sense, publications that show initiatives such as the Sunday Age’s may, in fact, find themselves best placed to survive the migration.

David Heslin is a Bachelor of Journalism student at Monash University.