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Letters to the editor

In early December, a curious thing happened: after months of booming business on our opinion page, the letters to the editor suddenly dried up.

It wasn’t just the normal pre-holiday lull; it was as if the letters just fell off a cliff. I got a few, but hardly enough to fill the page reliably every day.

The Christmas/New Year’s season is bad enough for letters, since people have other things to think about than writing to the newspaper, but this letter drought was really bad. I was filling with whatever commentaries I could pull from whatever sources I could find.

After the first of the year, things got a little better, but the volume of letters never returned to the satisfying flow from last fall. Even the outbreak of controversy, such as the decision on the Napa High Indian, seemed to generate fewer letters than I would have expected.

Then I began getting scattered reports that people had submitted letters which never appeared. I dug as deeply as I was able into our computer system, found the log of letter submissions and checked against the opinion email box. Sure enough, everything matched perfectly and I found no sign of the lost letters.

Was there a gremlin in our system? Was there something on the site that was causing users to accidentally cancel their submission when they thought they were hitting send, perhaps?

Nothing made sense.

But then earlier this week, I got two emails just a few hours apart, one from a supporter of Measure D, the proposed ban on private helicopter pads, and one from a leading opponent of Measure C, the proposed Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative. Both said they had received complaints from friends that the Register was refusing to run their letters.

This came as a surprise, because we rarely refuse to run letters, and, in fact, given the lull in submissions lately, I would have been eager to have just about anything.

The Measure D supporter sent me the automatically generated confirmation she had received after entering her submission, proving that something had been entered somewhere into our computer system, even if it didn’t show up in my normal opinion email box.

I turned to our local IT guru, who spent some time combing through the computer system. What he uncovered was unwelcome news, but explained everything.

Turns out that someone in a remote office had created a link on our website that led to a new email submission box, starting sometime around the beginning of December, but neglected to include a forwarding email. That meant that anyone who used that “Submit a letter” link had the submission accepted into our system, only to fall immediately into a big black hole where nobody was looking.

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* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Once we discovered this box, I was able to look back and see all those letters, dating from Dec. 2. In all, there were 128 submissions in that lost box, which just about perfectly accounts for the dip in letters I noticed last winter.

So now, in addition to the backlog of election-related letters building up in the regular email box, I have this pile of lost letters to go through.

I’ll be plowing through this pile over the next week or so. I will run as many of them as still make sense. Unfortunately, some were time sensitive, or relate to situations that have now changed or been resolved, so those letters are a total loss.

For letters that are still timely or relevant, however, I will dust them off and put them in the paper as soon as possible. Fortunately I can grab some extra space for letters at least three times a week, so I am hopeful I can run through them in a month or so.

If you did submit a letter than never ran, please feel free to check in with me to see if you’re part of this trove of old letters – odds are you’re in there.

And if you suddenly see a letter in the paper that appears to relate to an old controversy or a letter from several months ago, you’ll know why.

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* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

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

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Editor

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.