New election letters policy launched
Traditionally, this has been the time of the year The Union has announced it was going into “election letter” mode. During election years, because hundreds of campaign letters flood into the newspaper, as of a certain date (usually around Labor Day) we have announced we were limiting them to 100 words.
Also, we would stop accepting them a week before the election because we would have so many backlogged that it would take a week to run them all, even by adding extra op-ed pages every day.
Readers would be frustrated by the shorter length, the delay in seeing their letter, or not getting their letter in at all because of the cutoff date. (Because of the unpredictability of the volume, we could not guarantee that all election letters that met guidelines would be published, unlike our regular letters to the editor.)
Here is what we are going to do this year:
• Letters about candidates and ballot issues will have the same length limit as regular letters – 200 words.
• We will devote about half of our space for letters on the Opinion Page each day to election letters. If we receive more election letters than we have room for on a given day, we will publish a representative sample in print and put the rest online at The Union’s “Election Central” Web page.
• There will be no backlog. Letters will be published as soon as they are verified and processed. Thus, there will be no need to set a deadline a week ahead of the election to take care of the backlog. The last day we will publish letters either in print or online will be Monday, Nov. 1, the day before the election.
Some readers may object that they do not have access to the Web, which is a valid concern. However, area libraries and The Union’s front lobby have computers with Web access, with people to assist users if needed. Plus, there are few people who do not have a friend with Internet access. We feel the speed of publication and dropping the 100-word limit are worthy trade-offs.
The letters will be processed as normal. All letters must include a phone number and home town, and are verified within a day or two of when they are received, both for the sender to know it arrived, and for us to ensure that the letter is valid. If you don’t get a verification call from our letters maven, Janet Lee, then we did not receive your letter. If you do not contact us about not receiving a verification call, there is no way for us to know that we somehow missed your letter.
Other letter rules will apply in addition to length. Referring to other letter writers by name is not allowed. Also, keep personal attacks or foul, abusive or threatening language to yourself. Those whose letters are rejected for these reasons will be contacted and told why, and have an opportunity to resubmit.
All election letters – including those that appear in print – will be found online easily online, either by date or through a word search.
Some of you may be wondering who gets to decide what a “representative sample” of printed letters will be. That will be me, so direct any complaints my way.
We’ll start the new policy as soon as we get more election letters than we can publish in one day – probably some time next week. Readers of the print edition will be directed where to find more letters online.
This week, the Editorial Board began its issues interviews with candidates for county supervisor and Grass Valley City Council. We will start publishing them in print and online as soon as the tapes are transcribed, and all will be finished before absentee ballots are sent out in early October.
TheUnion.com’s “Election Central” page is up and going. It already includes handy election links and news stories, and we’ll add features as we go along. The address is http://www.theunion.com/election.
Richard Somerville is the editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturday.
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