New letters deadline -- with a catch
We have rules here at the South Jetty, and I don’t like them because, most of the time, I’m the one who has to enforce them. It’s like being a parent, only in this case, we make the Oxymom look like a light-weight.
The subject of rules reminds me of a time, years ago, when we owned the newspaper in Refugio. A certain elderly lady had an apartment for rent. Her ad started out simply enough: One bedroom apartment for rent. All bills paid.
A few months later, here she came with a new ad: One bedroom apartment for rent. All bills paid. No pets.
A few months went by and here she came with another ad: One bedroom apartment for rent. All bills paid. No pets, no live-ins.
A few more months went by, and here she came again with another ad: One bedroom apartment for rent. All bills paid. No pets, no live-ins, no parties.
Another couple of months went by, and here she came with her ad: One bedroom apartment for rent. All bills paid. No pets, no live-ins, no parties, no drugs.
Everyone in town knew who she was and who her renters were, so those ads had the gossip mills spinning.
This landlord, however, enforced rules by evicting tenants.
We don’t want to evict readers or subscribers with our rules.
So, when we figure out a rule doesn’t work well either us or for our readers and subscribers, we re-evaluate it.
I’ve re-evaluated our 10 a.m. Monday deadline for letters to the editor, and starting with the first issue in January, the deadline is going to be noon on Tuesday. I’m attaching a caveat. I reserve the right to withhold a letter that needs verification, clarification, inspection for libel or anything else that gives me pause (I’ve learned there’s usually a cause for a pause.).
Many years ago, I moved the deadline up to 10 a.m. Monday in order to have time to review letters that may contain libel – must have been during a particularly contentious period in our history.
Libel is not always black and white, and there are times when I need to consult with the “legal eagles” to make sure we’re not stepping into libelous territory.
Contrary to popular belief, newspapers are responsible for everything they publish: News stories, advertising and, yeah, letters to the editor. That a writer accepts responsibility for calling someone a low-down, lying, cheating, dirt-bag who ought to be prison doesn’t relieve us of that responsibility.
When the deadline was at noon Tuesday, the most libelous of letters typically would slip in the door at 11:59 a.m., leaving me with precious little time to scout out my sources to determine the legality of publishing the letter. That can be like putting socks on rooster – not an easy task to take on while also attending to everything else that has to be done from that point forward in order to make our date with the printer.
So, I followed the lead of a fellow publisher and changed the deadline to 10 a.m. Monday.
I’ve stuck to it like ice to a polar cap, and that has, in some cases, been a disservice to our readers.
It finally dawned on me that I actually can reserve the right to hold a letter until I have time to clear the way for legal publication.
We have a liberal letters policy: We print every letter we get (even ones that are unflattering) as long as they are not libelous. I don’t want to change that – but I don’t want to penalize folks who, for example, react to the Pearl Harbor program that happened last Monday night – after the deadline for letters to the editor.
I may be making more trouble for myself by setting a deadline with what may appear to be an arbitrary caveat.
I’ll deal with it. If it’s a problem, I’ll deal with that, too.
I’ve been known to put socks on roosters.