Opinion

Write your letters, but follow a few simple guidelines | Editorial

Every so often, we use this column to review our letters to the editor policy. It’s a chance to remind people who have forgotten how it works, to introduce the concept to those new to letter-writing and to re-enforce what’s printed at the top of this page every week.

First, readers should know it’s our intention to run every letter we receive, except the few — and it really is only a few — that cross a line and enter the realm of insult, flagrant inaccuracy or potential libel.

Every now and then, someone asks to write a letter anonymously or submits one with the words “name withheld” scrawled at the end. Unless the letter writer has a very compelling reason to withhold his or her name, we also don’t run those letters. Over time, such letters erode public trust in what is printed and open the door to deceit and ill-will. We believe letter writers have to have the courage of their convictions.

As a rule, we edit letters lightly, if at all, and usually just to clean up any typos, spelling errors or grammatical problems. We don’t attempt to untangle complex syntax or clarify a confusing thought. That’s the letter writer’s job.

Occasionally, it takes us a few weeks to get a letter into the paper, a fact that we regret because sometimes something is lost in that expanse of time. But space is limited in a newspaper; there are times when we just can’t squeeze them all in.

Finally, we limit the letter’s length to 300 words, give or take a few, a rule we attempt to enforce across the board, with those who like the newspaper as well as those who don’t. It’s our effort at maintaining a level playing field and ensuring there’s some integrity in the process. We also run only one letter a month from a writer.

Of course, space is infinite, or so it seems, online, so those who want to post lengthy comments about a news story can do so at our website, assuming that person has a Facebook account (a way that we again attempt to ensure the letter writer’s identity).

It’s interesting to note that the practice has changed considerably since the days in the 18th century, when Benjamin Franklin routinely wrote letters to the editor using a pseudonym, developing whole personas for the voice he was adopting. He even used a pseudonym when writing letters to his own brother’s newspaper, using those letters to flesh out an idea or take aim at an opponent.

Those days, of course, are over. So join the debate. Let your neighbors know what you think. And don’t forget to put your name at the end of the letter.

 

How to submit a letter to the editor

The best way to get a letter to The Beachcomber is via email. Send them to Leslie Brown at editor@vashonbeachcomber.com. We also accept typed or neatly written letters, mailed or hand-delivered.


 

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