Despite guidelines, our letters' policy offers open forum

Posted: Friday, May 17, 2002

One of a newspaper's vital roles is providing a forum for the free flow of ideas. In fact, the sole purpose of this page in the Peninsula Clarion is to provide a place for your ideas, our ideas and ideas from other people and places. It's our hope that the ideas discussed on this page will help us all understand different perspectives and, ultimately, result in a better, stronger community.

We consider it an honor -- and an obligation -- to share your ideas with other readers. We may disagree and even disapprove of what you say, but that doesn't mean you don't have a right to say it.

At least, in principle.

Right now, there's a stack of letters on the editor's desk and e-mails in the computer which won't be printed for various reasons. Among them: an anonymous request that we reprint something that appeared in another publication; a couple of anonymous letters -- one dealing with a criminal court case and the other with bad politicians, easements and the beautification of Soldotna; letters on various medical procedures and in praise of specific central Kenai Peninsula doctors; a letter that sounds like an advertisement for a used car dealer; a variety of personal thank-you notes.

The Clarion has one of the most open "letters to the editor" policies we know, but there are some rules. In general, here they are with a little explanation:

All letters should include the writer's name, phone number and address. This includes letters sent via e-mail, as well as "Applause" letters. The phone number and address are requested for verification purposes and are helpful if the editor has a question. We print letter writers' names and the community where they live.

Anonymous letters will not be printed. A letter isn't worth the paper it's printed on or the time it took if the writer isn't willing to take responsibility for his or her words. Those opinions just aren't credible.

The shorter the letter the sooner it will be printed. Letters may be edited to fit the available space. We have avoided putting a word limit on letters, because we haven't wanted to hamstring discussion. A good guideline, however, is letters should not exceed 400 words. If you just can't say it in that amount of space, maybe your idea is worth a "Voices of the Peninsula" column. These columns should be no longer than 700 words and should include a short biographical sketch identifying the writer's credentials.

Letters that, in the editor's judgment, are libelous or in poor taste will not be printed. We also edit letters for grammar and clarity -- at least, that's our intent.

The editor also may exclude letters that are untimely or irrelevant to the public interest. Some letters that, in our view, are inappropriate for publication are those that badmouth specific businesses and those that sound like advertising for a business. In both cases, letters to the specific business are more appropriate. In addition, if a person is a frequent letter writer, we may not print all of his or her letters.

Although short, topical poetry is considered, it is rarely used. Lengthy poetry is rejected.

Submissions from other publications will not be printed. There are some very practical reasons for this: copyright laws and the reality that we could quickly fill our pages with work from other publications.

While letter writers are invited and encouraged to comment on issues they read about in other publications, we ask that they not reference specific stories from other publications.

Applause letters should recognize public-spirited service and contributions. In general, the service or contribution should be a benefit to a nonprofit organization or the community at large or concern an event that was open to the public. These letters should be no more than 250 words. They should be from a person, not just an organization -- for example, Jane Doe for the Kenai chapter of Helping People. Personal thank-you notes will not be published. We appreciate the sentiment behind patients thanking their doctors, families thanking friends who have comforted them in times of sorrow and the like, but we do not print those letters.

Despite the "do's and don'ts," we believe the Clarion's letter policy does provide an open forum for public discussion on the issues of today. If you believe your letter meets our guidelines, but it isn't printed within a week, give us a call. A technical or human error may be to blame.

In the meantime, keep the letters coming. They are what freedom of expression is all about.

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