Constructive editing may improve letters
We’ve been engaging in a discussion about letters to the editor in The Union. Last week’s column highlighted readers who said to leave well enough alone. This week, we’ll share thoughts from folks who have ideas about how to do it better.
One gentleman was very succinct in his note: “I believe that The Union has been directly responsible for much of the discord in this community by providing a forum for outlandish misinformation. I would like to keep the length limits the same and edit for civility. I also wish you would require people to cite their sources. Evaluating the source is one of the first tenets of critical thinking.”
Here are some other ideas:
Lots of letters
“Take a day a week and add an extra page, getting in all but the most nonsensical and venomous entries. Clean ’em up as best you can, but always remember what we say in Iowa: ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.'”
More Other Voices
“The Other Voices column is a good place for articulate writers who have more to say on an issue. You may want to publish guidelines for how one would submit such an article. A regularly running ‘note’ on what the rules are for both letters and Other Voices guest columns is a good idea. This note could be short, and just make reference to the Web site for the specific guidelines.”
“The Union can and should help elevate public discourse by simply not publishing, or editing out, religious polemics, name-calling, groundless accusations, racist or anti-Semitic remarks or other similar drivel. Tell your readers not only to keep it short, but to support generalizations with concrete, specific support if they want letters published. Many seem to think ‘free speech’ means you have an obligation to publish their bilious rant. Nonsense. Editing and judiciously screening letters is a good idea.”
“Why not make the rules something like ‘The length of the letter should be the minimum size necessary to discuss the issue.’ Or perhaps, ‘Letters shall be rational, concise, appropriate, and reasonably literate.’ What you want is good letters, not necessarily short ones.”
Let’s you and him fight, Part 2
“If conflict and retort occur on personal levels, letter writers should be allowed immediate response, voiding at times the 30-day limit. This will aid your paper greatly. (Nothing like a good verbal brawl to keep them coming back.)”
“Continue length rules, scrutinize them for brevity, clarity, civility and truthfulness, and run as many as possible. Bounce all letters not meeting above guidelines back to the writer for editing, and suspend the writer’s privileges for a month (or more) if the truthfulness rules is violated.”
Letters über alles
“For this newspaper … letters should take precedence over profiles of artists, community activists and even over Molly and Cal. Please don’t censor the community debate. Pretend this is a college town, and this is the bulletin board in the student center.”
“I would stick with Option 1. A limit on length will cause most of us to rewrite, review, and make sure our main points are presented without rambling on and on. My problem with ‘selectively choosing,’ ‘editing,’ and ‘relevancy,’ etc., is that I won’t know if my letter was rejected for content, rejected as poorly written, or never arrived at your office.”
“Your staff is busy enough doing productive things for the paper, and should not be tasked to edit, rewrite, shorten, or otherwise decide relevancy of submitted materials for the Opinion Page. As an editor in the real world, you have page budgets and deadlines. Subscriptions, newsstand sales and advertising permit only so much space. I say make the most of it and print all the material you can squeeze in.”
Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts. More comments undoubtedly will filter in. The Union’s editorial board will take them all into account as we ponder ways to deal with our ever-growing flood of letters.
Richard Somerville is the editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturdays.
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