New idea for publishing letters, columns
The Union is adding new writers and columnists to its staff, and we plan to introduce you to them in our column next week. One of them is a Web editor, who joins our Webmaster, Dayna Amboy, and who will focus on enhancing and increasing news content on our Web site, http://www.TheUnion.com.
TheUnion.com already is the most-trafficked Web site in the county, but we plan to raise the ante by using the strength of our news team to become an around-the-clock news source. (Regular Web readers may already have noticed an increase in our posting of breaking news at any time of the day.) We’re also looking at ways to ramp up the site’s interactive features.
In brainstorming with Publisher Jeff Ackerman about the possibilities for expanding the usefulness of TheUnion.com, our thoughts turned to the Ideas & Opinions Page. The problem – one we have discussed in this column often- is that even though interest in reading and writing letters to the editor and Other Voices guest columns is growing by leaps and bounds, the space on the editorial page remains finite.
That is not the case on the Web. In fact, unlimited room is one of the major strengths of the online medium.
Both Jeff and I have fielded calls or e-mails in recent days from readers asking why their letter hadn’t appeared or why their guest column hadn’t been accepted. They often are less than satisfied when we tell them these features have become victims of their own popularity.
At one point earlier this month, nearly 80 letters were backed up. The Union was publishing 10 or more letters a day, but each day we received that many or more. It became clear that, since we had made a commitment to publish all letters that met length and content rules, we had to find a way to publish more letters.
So we’ve cut back temporarily on the number of guest columns to expand space for letters. You’ll note the op-ed page today, which usually contains two Other Voices columns, is all letters except for Bob Crabb’s weekly cartoon.
But guest columns are important, too. Currently, we accept three or four out of every 10 submissions, looking for columns that address issues or perspectives that are not being voiced in letters, or for views from community leaders about crucial community issues. (A full explanation of our policy on letters to the editor, kudos, and Other Voices columns can be found at TheUnion.com under “Submit It.”)
But these are short-term fixes, as would be adding an extra opinion page during peak times. The best solution for the long term, which meets the needs of readers and writers who want to see opinions published as soon as possible, may be this:
Put all letters online as soon as they are verified (a necessary safety check) and publish a widely representative sample of letters in The Union’s opinion page as space allows. At the same time, we can loosen up our criteria for Other Voices columns, again posting more of them online and selecting a variety for the printed page.
This may be more acceptable than waiting two weeks for publication of a letter or a month for an Other Voices (if it’s selected for consideration in the first place).
One negative: Those without access to the Web would not see the full array of contributions. One positive: Such a policy would ensure that both TheUnion.com AND The Union would be moving the freshest opinion out to the community as quickly as possible.
Jeff and I are interested in hearing what readers think of this idea, or variations on it. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org; write Rich Somerville, Editor, The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945; or fax me at 477-4292. (No calls, please.)
Richard Somerville is the editor of The Union. His column appears each Saturday.
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