Among newspaper people, it has long been recognized letters to editor are the “lifeblood” of the Opinion Page and the “heart” of newspapers. It is so exciting to see so many competing views from letter writers, especially as election season heats up.
This column is a brief review of the Newsleaders’ policy on political letters to editor. We hope our readers understand our rationales — especially for our restrictions on word counts in each submitted letter.
Because of space limitations, all newspapers have to impose limitations on letters to editor mainly because of space considerations. With those limitations come responsibilities for the editor and the staff to be scrupulously consistent and eminently fair when we publish those letters. For example, our staff tries its best to put a representative sampling of letters each Friday during election season so there are letters in praise of or critical of candidates of all parties. Sometimes that is not possible because in any given week, we might receive letters from Republicans only or Democrats only.
To maximize your chances of getting a letter published (either in the newspaper or on its website), please carefully heed the following tips:
1. A political letter to editor cannot exceed 200 words. If it does, it will be edited down by the editor or sent back to the writer for rewriting. Again, that word limitation is because of tight space in our newspapers. Other papers, even much bigger ones, also have a 200-word limit.
2. The Newsleaders will accept only one letter from a person every four weeks. As most readers know, the Newsleader is published every Friday. There are nine issues that will be published between now (Friday, Aug. 31) and Friday, Nov. 2 — the Friday before Election Day, which is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
3. If someone writes a letter criticizing the writer of a previous letter published, the one who wrote that first letter will be given a chance to respond. And then, the second writer will also be given a chance to respond to the rebuttal. But, after that, their in-newspaper debate will be terminated. There is simply not enough space to let these passionate debates go on week after week, as interesting as they may be.
4. All letters written by residents of Sartell and St. Joseph (our two Newsleader cities) will have top priority. If there are letters written from outside of those two cities, we will print them only if there is room in the newspaper. Otherwise, those letters will all be placed on the Newsleader website.
5. Form letters, if we can determine they are in fact “form” letters, will not be published. Those are the kinds of letters that are written by someone else, such as a political action committee and then signed by someone who did not write the letter.
6. The same guidelines for letters, including the limit of 200 words, will be applied to both the letters published in the newspaper and those placed on the newspapers’ website.
7. If we get a flood of letters, too many to publish, we will have to put them on the website, with a plainly visible notice to readers on the Opinion Page that those letters can be found there.
8. People who submit letters earliest will have the best chance of seeing them published. It often happens in the very last week or two of the pre-election season, we become inundated with letters — too many to publish. However, we can at least place those letters on the Newsleader website. Another advantage of the website is readers can read all previous letters submitted, if they choose, because each week’s issue can be accessed through the online archives.
This has got to be the most exciting — if passionately contentious — political season in a long time. We look forward to reading and publishing political letters to editor in the coming weeks.
If there are any questions about our letters-to-editor policy or other policies regarding our election coverage, please feel free to call the Newsleader at 320-363-7741.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.