We get all types of letters to the editor, ranging in viewpoints from the far left to the far right of the political spectrum. Some don’t fall within the political spectrum at all. Some take on mainstream issues with solid arguments. Others are fringe issues with arguments out in right field.
With some of the letters we get, we couldn’t agree more. With others, we believe the writer’s opinions are dead wrong. Still others anger us that the writer could be so callous, even hateful.
So how do we decide which letters to publish? It’s not always easy, but we will say this: We set the bar low. Intentionally.
The rationale for this is because, for the most part, we don’t want to be the ones determining whose opinions are good or bad. While we aren’t required to give people their right to free speech on the page, we do want it to be an open forum.
Determining which letters get published is more of a science than an art. If it meets the requirements, it gets published. And most do.
We do have certain requirements:
• Letters must be within 400 words. We’re strict about this, and this is the requirement that trips up most writers. A common refrain we hear is: “I can’t get my point across in 400 words.” Trust us, you can. (Our system counts a little higher than many word processors, so keep letters to 390 words to be safe.)
• Letters must be from our readership area, which is generally a 30- to 40-mile range around Jefferson City. An exception is to the north, where we only go to Ashland.
• Letters must be “issue-oriented.” We give a good amount of latitude to this requirement. That said, some submissions, such as personal issues, poems or “thank you” letters are better-suited for ads. Also, we don’t allow letters that endorse or oppose candidates.
• We require a name, hometown and a phone number for verification.
• We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity. If a letter is 406 words, we often try to eliminate the extra six words, while trying not to lose any meaning. If the letters are much longer, we typically ask the writer to make the edits.
• We prefer for letters to have a respectable tone, and we draw the line at name calling and vulgarity.
• We often get questioned as to why we run so many letters from the same writers. We don’t limit writers to a certain number of submissions and probably won’t unless we have space constraints. So if you think you’re seeing too many letters from the same writers, then add your voice to the mix and encourage others to do the same.
• We won’t run a letter if it appears to be intended to incite our readers, while not offering any real arguments or solutions. We’ve occasionally spiked letters for things such as race-baiting, bigotry and misogyny, if that’s all they have to offer.
Again, we set the bar low, intentionally. That’s to give a voice to a wide range of opinions, not just the ones with which we tend to agree.
So keep writing. We encourage submissions on all sides of the political spectrum, in addition to issues that are non-partisan. You don’t need any certain status or expertise to express your opinion — you just have to have an opinion.