In tomorrow's paper, from Linda Kinsey, Executive Editor of Sun News:
A recent letter to the editor published in one of our print editions raised the hackles of a group of readers, prompting our editors to take a closer look at our letters policy.
The letter, the offended parties cried, contained a number of factual errors that distorted the truth. In this case, teachers’ salaries and benefits was the hot-button issue.
The phones rang, and rebuttal letters poured in. It was clear that lots of folks – mostly teachers — were upset with us and they wanted us to know that in no uncertain terms. One angry, anonymous caller left a voicemail berating us for publishing the letter, finishing the rant by calling us “Nazis.” Wow.
With so many school levies on the ballot this year, both pro- and anti-levy letters are jamming our mailboxes, including our e-mails. We decided it was time to revisit Sun’s letters policy, which was formally adopted about 10 years ago, to make sure both editors and readers understand the rules of the game.
A meeting of editors was called, and we challenged ourselves on every point of our old policy. At the heart of our sometimes heated discussion was the notion that if we err, it will be on the side of including letters — rather than rejecting them. Except for just a few specific reasons listed later in this piece, your letter is very likely to be published.
Another point on which we all agreed whole-heartedly was that letters are a vital part of a good paper and we need to encourage readers to voice their opinions. Most newspapers want readers to view the Opinion page as a town forum, where all voices and opinions can be aired. We are no exception. When we say we welcome your letters, we mean it. Even the ones that are critical of our paper.
In order to ensure that your voice is heard, we do ask that you follow a few guidelines:
1. Include your name, address and phone numbers on both mailed letters and those sent via e-mail. We need to reach you during regular business hours to verify that you are the writer, but only your name and community will be published.
2. Keep it friendly, folks. Name-calling and personal attacks will cause your letter to be edited or rejected.
3. Keep it factual. Sun will not knowingly publish letters with factual errors.
4. Keep it original. Form letters pulled from advocacy websites will not be used. If you are fired up about an issue, your own words will express it best.
5. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it also will go a long way toward getting your letter published. We ask that you keep your letters to 300 words or less. This is more of a guideline than a rule. Because space is limited, letters that are short and to the point have a better chance of making it into print.
6. Get it to us on time. Letters should reach us by noon on Monday.
Will we ever reject a letter? Yes, especially if it is libelous. We strive to adhere to good journalism. Besides, no one really wants to wind up in court. In addition, anonymous letters are never published.
We also reject letters from political candidates and their families during election season. We consider a candidate to be anyone who has declared an intent to run for office, whether or not that person has filed with the elections board. Supporters not related to the candidate are free to submit letters.
We will edit letters for clarity, civility and brevity, and writers generally are limited to one letter a month.
If we get more letters than space to run them, we may publish some of them online, but we’ll give you the link so you can get to them quickly. Editors will make every attempt to publish representative viewpoints, and in some cases excerpts of letters may be published if there are more letters than space.
With a local-elections year, enormous cuts in state funding to schools, local municipalities and libraries, along with school levies, sewer and water rate increases, there is more than enough to weigh in on.
So whether you are amused, angered or enlightened by letters, we encourage you to have your say.
Kinsey is executive editor at Sun News.