I’ve talked here on occasion about letters to the editor and how we handle them, but I continue to get questions and some confusion about how they work. So let’s review.

What are letters to the editor?

Submissions from readers (or others) about any topic of interest. It’s the section of the paper where we hear from the public.

Who can write a letter?

Pretty much anyone. We have an informal priority list when space is tight. Top priority is locals, next are non-locals who are writing about some topic of local interest, and third comes everything else, such as submissions from state or national interest groups or columns from our associated weeklies, such as the Thursday Pulpit series. This third category we use only when space allows and the topic seems reasonable.

Can I write anonymously, or on behalf of a group?

No. We require real names (and also, what area you live in, though not your exact address). If you’re writing on behalf of a large group, please pick someone (or two or three names maximum) as author and we’ll make clear that you’re writing on behalf of this larger organization or business.

How often can I write?

Generally once every 30 days, though I do grant exceptions, particularly if someone responds to your original letter. I usually limit such exchanges to one response on each side within those 30 days.

How long can my submission be?

Brevity is always appreciated, but our normal limit is 800 words. I occasionally grant exceptions, but rarely and only for something of great general interest or importance.

Does the paper run every letter it gets?

No. As with any submission from the public, we reserve the right to accept, reject, or edit anything anyone sends to us. Although we run almost everything we receive, we do occasionally reject letters. Reasons range from poor writing to hostile, offensive or excessively inflammatory content. If time allows, I try to let people know when I reject a letter, but that’s not always possible. If you submit a letter and it doesn’t appear after a few days or a week, feel free to check in with me – sometimes letters just get lost or forgotten rather than being rejected.

Does the paper edit my submission?

Sometimes. We certainly review for basics such as spelling, grammar and style. Sometimes, if time permits, I will help out by suggesting edits to letters that are overly long or poorly written, but you’re better off submitting clean writing in the first place. If I’m going to make any substantial edits, I try to check with the author first, though sometimes we have to make last minute trims to fit the available space.

Do you fact check the letters?

Yes, at least to the extent time permits. We always reserve the right to ask for evidence or citations of factual claims. We also reserve the right to ask for reaction, clarification, or responses from anyone or any organization you mention in a letter. That can range from us simply warning that person the letter is coming all the way up to showing that person part or all of the letter in order to get a reasonable response – this is the same way we treat information or allegations contained in news articles and it is an element of basic fairness. We do not, however, usually reveal who wrote the letter in advance unless it is absolutely necessary.

What’s the difference between letters, Your Turns and Guest Columns?

Letters and Your Turn columns are basically the same – we usually put a Your Turn label on items that are longer, more deeply researched or thought out, or more detailed that routine letters. “Guest Columns” are usually items from public officials, serious experts in a topic, or from editors or staff of our newspapers. In practice, however, all three kinds of items wind up on the same place in the paper and online.

How can I submit a letter?

The very best way is via email – either to opinions@napanews.com or through the “Submit a letter” tab on our opinion page online. We, however, still accept letters through traditional methods – hand-delivered at our office, through the mail or fax. We’d prefer you type the letter, but we will take hand-written submissions if necessary (but please write neatly). On all submissions, please include a phone number or email where I can reach you if I have problems or suggestions.

Can I comment on letters?

Yes. Although the comment section on our website is closed, we post all our letters, commentaries, and cartoons on our Opinions Facebook page at facebook.com/NVROpEd. Join the discussion there, or you can always add your voice by, well, submitting a letter to the editor.

Any other questions? Feel free to email or call me to discuss.

You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or sscully@napanews.com.



Sean has been editor of the Napa Valley Register since April of 2014. His previous credits include the Press Democrat, The Weekly Calistogan, The Washington Times and Time and People magazines.