Letters to the editor: Too good to waste
If you’ve written a letter to the editor and you haven’t seen it in the paper, it’s not because I didn’t like what you had to say. My opinion of your opinion doesn’t mean diddlysquat when it comes to deciding what is published and what isn’t. That’s just not part of the criteria for publishing letters to the editor.
The criteria is published every week, so it shouldn’t come as a news flash. However, since nearly every letter we get requires some effort – sometimes considerable effort – to insure it meets the criteria, it’s apparent not everyone reads it.
It just kills me when I get a letter, especially a really good letter, that is not signed. Letters without signatures (signed e-mails count as a signature) are not published. No fair shooting in the dark: The accused has the right to know his or her accuser.
(I have a very interesting file of unsigned letters. One of these days, that will be a column – a long time from now when I’m really long in the tooth and have neither my reputation nor the shirt off my back to lose.)
If it’s a handwritten letter, I need to be able to read the signature, which brings me to the next requirement: A daytime phone number where the writer can be reached.
I am in possession of a perfectly good handwritten letter – but I can’t read the signature, and none of my interpretations of it showed up in the phone book.
The writer did not include a phone number, so I have no way of contacting him/her to verify the name. Such a loss! I’m waiting to hear from him/her asking why his/her letter hasn’t been published. No luck yet.
If a mailing address, another requirement, had been included, I could have contacted the writer that way – but, alas, no mailing address was included.
Sometimes there is a delay in the publication of a letter because it did not meet the 10 a.m. Monday deadline, and that is often a source of frustration – for me as well as the writer.
The reason for the earlier deadline (the deadline for news and ads is noon Tuesday) is that if there is a question of libel, I need time to sort that out, sometimes consult with an attorney, and give a writer time to make revisions that avoid the libel.
A newspaper is responsible for its entire content, from news to ads to letters to the editor. So, even though you may be willing to go to court for a libelous statement, we’re not. However, we’d like to find a way for you to make your point without subjecting you or us to a lawsuit. That can take time, and I’m not exactly sitting around here eating bon-bons, sipping champagne and waiting for the next letter to arrive. So, if you can get me that letter before or by 10 a.m. Monday, I should be able to swing it in time for the Thursday edition. If not, we’ll talk (as long as you give me that phone number!).
We want the letters to the editor to reflect the issues of the day, yet not become venues for advertising, whether it’s commercial or political. Therefore, an ad that is disguised as a letter is sent to the ad department.
We appreciate those who want to thank private and commercial enterprises for their support, but that has a place: The Cards of Thanks in our classified ad section. We even have a nonprofit rate that makes that a pretty painless experience. Even without the nonprofit rate, classified ads will not break the bank.
For those of you who want to publicize a business for its lousy service or products, send it on. I’ll then send it to the business. Letters like that are usually of malicious intent, and that will send us to court so fast you won’t be able to say “malice.”
And, although it sometimes interrupts the “flow of conversation,” we limit letters to one per person per 30 days.
So that we can keep the letters to the editor open to as many people as possible, letters are limited to 300 words – we can slide just a touch on that, but not much.
Oh – and don’t try to fool me. I have a sixth sense. Sometimes it’s a name, an address, a phone number or a turn of phrase in a letter that tips me off that’s something’s not adding up. I match names and numbers and addresses – most of the time before I even read the letter. If I get a sense that there’s something rotten in Denmark, I put on the brakes.
So give it to me straight: Your real name, your real phone number, your real address.
All these rules are a pain. They make more work for me. But in the interest of fairness and unfortunate abuses, each one of them is necessary.
It would be a whole lot easier for me to just run ’em through without checking.
Life ain’t easy, though, and I’m not real fond of the idea of killing the golden goose that allows us all the privilege of expressing our opinions.