Dear letter writers:
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us and the readership. Letters from readers communicate the interests, passions and pulse of the community. A newspaper without letters is a newspaper without a pulse.
Our message this year concerns some of the technical details of assembling the Letters page. Nothing too esoteric. More like inside baseball. That old caution against watching laws or sausage being made is occasionally relevant to the Letters page. Let us take a peek behind the curtain.
Revelation No. 1: We’re not that picky.
You do not have to be a great writer or authority on world affairs to have your letter published. We ask only that you provide your name and town and your opinion. It’s best if you express that opinion in a way that wouldn’t make your grandmother roll over in her grave.
Revelation No. 2: Size matters.
The announced criteria for placing a letter on the page include civility and length. Civility ain’t what it used to be, but you knew that already. So … length. Prosaic as it may sound, the Letters page is a large puzzle board and your notes, opinions, messages of praise and scoldings are the puzzle pieces. At the end of the day, it all has to fit.
Too great a length is a problem because a long letter crowds others off the page. Too short, on the other hand, is a boon. Them little letters are a big help when there’s an awkward space to fill at the bottom of the page.
Allowable tricks of the trade include adding or removing a second line, or “deck,” to the letter’s headline (title) or — when it’s just a teenie bit too long or short — “kerning” the type. “Kerning” is another way of saying squeezing or expanding. It involves microscopic reduction or addition to the spaces between words and characters. But be careful: Kern too tight and you can’t read it; kern too loose and you don’t want to.
Revelation No. 3: The deadline that isn’t.
We encourage letter writers to submit their communications by the Friday before the next edition. Many letter writers, understandably, take this to mean that if they get their letter in by Friday it’s definitely going to be published in the next issue. This is not always the case because we frequently have a backlog. As noted above, we have only so much space. Once that finite space is filled, even letters that arrived timely might not make it in until next week.
Revelation No. 4: We like being taken to task.
Nothing better communicates the integrity of a newspaper’s Letters page than the publication of a communication that is critical of said newspaper. What better demonstration of our willingness to publish a wide range of viewpoints?
Speaking of viewpoints, we received an exceptional number of strongly worded letters this past election season. After publishing SWLs (Strongly Worded Letters) representing a one political position, we occasionally receive objections from partisans of the opposing political position. They allege bias on our part. Our response in such cases is to invite the objecting party to submit a letter representing the opposing position. Upon receiving the invited rebuttal, we rush it into print in the interests of balance. Which is when members of the original faction call. They allege bias. It’s a piñata-like experience. Without the candy.
Wrapping up, we again want to convey our thanks to all our letter writers. Many of your communications have served to clarify the significance (and sometimes the accuracy) of our reporting. Your viewpoints also serve to reflect the priorities, values and moods of the community — which is the goal of every community newspaper.
Thanks for writing. Stay in touch!