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Readers help create new letters policy

Richard Somerville, Editor
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The readers have spoken. In recent weeks, we have been engaging in a debate. As the new editor of The Union and a veteran of a number of other newspapers, I saw no problem with the common policy of trimming letters to the editor in order to get more of them on the opinion page, or to edit out parts that most people would consider redundant or objectionable.

I was quickly told: That may be the way it’s done in other places, but not in Nevada County. Thus, I was introduced to a conundrum that may be unique to this newspaper. On the one hand, we receive more letters than we have the space to run. On the other, people who meet the length requirement expect their letters to be published. On the one hand, many readers complain about letters that are offensive or contain unsubstantiated charges. On the other, a large group of loyal readers have grown addicted to the rough give and take.

So through this column I invited your comments, which I have shared here the past few Saturdays. I heard from more than 50 folks by mail, phone and e-mail. We have listened and pondered, and here is what we’ve decided to do, based on your recommendations:



— Regular letters to the editor will be limited to 200 words, reduced from the current 350, which allows us to run more letters.

— Letters will not be edited by us beyond fixing spelling and grammar, and conforming to newspaper “style,” or uniformity of usage.




— Letters exceeding the word limit and those deemed unsuitable by the editor because of tone or content will be returned to the writer, who can choose to edit and resubmit the letter.

To compensate somewhat for the tighter limit on the length of letters, we are offering more opportunities to publish “Other Voices” columns. “Other Voices” is The Union’s showcase of opinion columns written by readers, local experts, and issues advocates. They may be 500 to 750 words in length, are submitted in the same way as letters to the editor, and are subject to the same rules. “Other Voices” columns also may be solicited by the editor.

The best submissions are well-written pieces that make people think or that provide fresh insight into a familiar problem. We’re especially interested in articles on Nevada County issues, and may accept state or Western regional topics. But readers should feel free to offer something out of the ordinary – perhaps a topic that examines an aspect of everyday life.

To create more room for “Other Voices,” we are discontinuing our paid monthly reader/columnists. This unorthodox arrangement, made before my arrival, is an uncomfortable one. Paying readers to write columns, aside from seeming to be unnecessary, implies newspaper endorsement or approval of their opinions. The columnist, meanwhile, sees any suggestion from the editor (such as a hint that four straight columns on the same subject may be excessive) as censorship.

Also, there is an inherent unfairness in a columnist pushing a political cause in 750 words while rebuttals are limited to 100 (during campaign season, anyway).

However, the eight monthly columnists – Melinda Monaghan, Bill Larsen, Nate Beason, Otto Haueisen, Hank Starr, Michael Schwalm, Brian Bisnett, Greg Loper and Barry Schoenborn – still may submit “Other Voices” columns, along with all the rest of you.

The new 200-word restriction on letters to the editor begins with those postmarked Monday. For details and submission tips for letters to the editor, our “Kudos” thank-you letters, and “Other Voices,” see the “Submit It” section of our Web site, http://www.theunion.com. (Also see our new policy in box below.)

And speaking of election endorsement letters, please note that our deadline is rapidly approaching, and we are using more space to reduce the backlog. The last day election letters will be accepted is Thursday at 5 p.m. The last day we will publish them is Thursday, Oct. 31.

Richard Somerville is the editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturdays.


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