Anyone who reads the Pulse will know that we have a robust letters page. When I got here almost three months ago, I was shocked to see the letters pouring in, week after week after week.
It’s not just me who will tell you that when a newspaper has a strong opinion page with regular engagement from readership, it’s like a blood-pressure reading that’s indicative of a healthy newspaper and a healthy community full of engaged and articulate people who are not afraid to express their opinions. Around here, we never take this for granted, so keep them coming.
Because the letters we receive are so numerous, I think it’s not a bad idea to reiterate some of the operational procedures surrounding them and talk just a little about what they are. That may seem unnecessary, but I think it bears defining in the age of fake-news accusations and realities. An American Press Institute survey done not too long ago found that a little more than half of the people surveyed could easily distinguish news from opinion in traditional media. This means, of course, that almost half the people couldn’t. That’s an alarming finding. And their ability to discern the difference dropped markedly when it came to online-only news or social media. But we won’t go there today.
First, the letters you see on our letters pages are opinions. Period. Individuals express themselves in writing and then submit the resulting letters to us for consideration. This extends to the columns – this one included – that you see on the Perspectives pages. These columns are not news articles.
Second, the deadline for letters is Monday at noon. Anything that comes in after that is immediately pushed to the next week’s paper without even a glance. Given the demands of deadlines, this is a policy we can’t flex.
Third, all letters need to arrive with a full address, including the city and state of residence, and a primary phone number where the letter writer can be reached. Only the city and state will be printed with the person’s letter and name, but we need the other information for verification purposes. If a letter comes without that information, it will be kicked back with a request for it and then set aside until that information arrives.
Fourth, if you’re quoting statistics or stating facts, as many people like to do to support their opinions, you’re going to be asked to provide your sources. This gets back to the news-versus-opinion difference. When you state facts and figures, you’re essentially reporting, and when you’re reporting, you must be accurate.
Some letter writers also like to quote people when supporting their opinions. Again, you’ll need to substantiate this information. And, for the record, these quotes will rarely make it through the editing and review processes because you’re not getting quotes that represent individual truths, as is done in news reporting – you’re selecting quotes that support “your” truth.
Fifth, we don’t have space to print every letter. We’ll include the most diverse array of opinions that address a wide variety of topics on our letters page. When several letters state the same general opinion, we may omit one to make room for a different topic or voice, for example.
Finally, we don’t have burn barrels out back for both pro-Trump and anti-Trump letters – but we actually get accused of both. Perhaps that means we’re exactly where we need to be: right in the middle.