Why you write

Posted: Friday, November 12, 2010

If there's one great tradition in American newspapers, it's the Letters to the Editor.

For generations, this has been the one spot in newspapers where the community gets to express their opinion on anything they choose. Letters can address issues of the day. But letters from readers can address just what's bugging you, what peeves you, whether or not it's the news of the day. And letters don't always have to be critical. Folks write us when they see something they like, or think deserves praise.

In a way, the Letters to the Editor section is like the print version of town square. Everyone who wants to can express their opinion to the community, and the community reacts as it will.

That's why we encourage folks to participate. Of course, as in many aspects of life where we interact with others, there are some parameters -- rules, if you will. And every once in awhile, it's good to go over them again so everyone knows what they are.

First, we want all letter writers to be civil. We don't think that name-calling helps facilitate dialogue. Once you call someone a numbskull, chances are they stop listening to what you're saying and just start thinking about what to call you.

Second, we want letter writers to debate issues, not individuals. Admittedly, there's some gray area here, especially when we're talking about public servants, but we'll address that below. In general, though, what we're suggesting here is that you can freely and honestly disagree with someone else's ideas. That doesn't necessarily translate into passing judgment on that person's motives or basic humanity. Few of us are trained to be psychologists; let's not pretend to be one.

Third, public figures -- politicians, high level government employees, celebrities -- are considered fair game, somewhat. But private individuals most definitely are not. Think of it this way. There are people in this world who chose to place themselves in the spotlight. By doing that, they knowingly subject themselves to greater public scrutiny, and often, harsher public comment. Most folks, though, chose to stay out of the public spotlight. They just want to do their jobs and live their lives. We try to respect that when we publish letters. So, if you've written a letter to us naming your neighbor and calling him a "boob," don't be surprised if we don't publish it.

Fourth, state your case, then move on and make room for others. We like strong opinions and points of view. We don't like them beaten to death. If you write to us this month saying basically the same thing you said last month, well, we'll pass this time.

Fifth, sign your name. No one's opinion is worth much if he or she isn't willing to stand behind it. So, no anonymous letters. If you feel like you can't do that, perhaps you've got problems that no letter is going to fix.

As for spelling, grammar, punctuation, don't fret. We're going to fix as much of that as we can for you. Yes, bad grammar can get in the way of a message (and ticks off every eighth- grade English teacher in the universe). So we'll fix the technical stuff and allow your opinions to shine through.

Keep writing. Letters to the Editor are often the most enlightening parts of the newspaper.

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