As any of you who have sent in letters to the editor lately know, our Opinion page is seeing a rush of submissions.
I suspect it’s a combination of the tumultuous times and the fact that many people are stuck at home with enough time to say what’s on their minds.
Oh, and there’s an election coming too.
At this point, we’re backlogged at least a week, sometimes as much as two weeks. I suspect this will endure through the rest of the year, in large part because the election campaigns are ramping up, and that always leads to a rush of letters.
Small details can communicate a lot in terms of values and bias, Editor Sean Scully says, so newspapers have to think carefully about how to approach them.
It’s a little earlier than I usually do it, but given the flood of letters, it’s probably time for one of my periodic “rules of the road” columns.
First thing is, we welcome all sorts of opinions. If you have something on your mind, you can email or, if need be, send a hard copy. We have several online links for submitting a letter, but you can also email to me directly.
But having said that, we reserve the right to accept, reject or edit any outside submission we get. We run most of the letters we get, but we won’t run obvious falsehoods, gratuitous personal attacks, incendiary or inflammatory rhetoric, mass form letters from national interest groups, unverified conspiracy theories, and things of that nature.
Generally, if I have a concern about a letter, I will let you know, but since I handle the letters all by myself, in addition to my other editor duties, sometimes I just don’t have time. If you submit a letter and don’t see it after a reasonable amount of time, a week or so, feel free to check with me.
A recent forum by the Napa Valley Vintners turned into a fascinating and eye-opening discussion about race in America, Editor Sean Scully says.
Also, I do try to fact-check letters, but there are limits on my time and expertise, so sometimes things do get through. If you’re making a detailed argument, it would be very helpful if you’d submit citations or evidence so I know the letter is solid. If I get a complicated letter with no citations, I sometimes just have to set it aside until I have time to deal with it. That can lead to a long delay, depending on how busy I am.
If you are making a claim about some person or organization, you should understand that I will at least warn that person, and may well ask them to respond before publication. That may mean showing the person some or all of your letter, though we do not identify the author of the letter unless absolutely necessary. We’re not asking that person for permission to run the letter, but rather fact-checking or seeking a response.
Generally, we have a one-per-month rule for letter writers. I do sometimes grant exceptions, usually to answer some criticism of the original letter, but it is rare. We also don’t allow candidates to write on their own behalf, though we do sometimes allow them to weigh in on non-election matters or respond to criticism from a previous letter.
Our word limit is 800 (again, with rare exceptions), but we appreciate brevity. In fact, in times where space is a tight, a shorter letter is likely to get in sooner, just because long letters are hard to schedule.
Working from home has given Editor Sean Scully a rare chance to watch the doings in his back yard.
Which brings me to a question I get a lot: Do we publish letters on a first-come, first-served basis? And the answer is, sort of.
Generally, I schedule letters more or less in the order they come in – certainly I work through the email queue in chronological order.
But I also often have to shift letters around for space and timeliness. Sometimes it also takes additional time to edit, fact-check, or seek a response on a letter. That can delay things. And if you send me a hard copy, particularly a hand-written one, it may take me a while to have time to convert that to an electronic version. You’re always better off typing and emailing me.
A long-ago journalism project launched Editor Sean Scully on a decades-long journey to understand race in America.
We have been getting a lot of non-standard letters lately too, particularly poems and drawings. We do try to use those as often as possible, but sometimes space simply doesn’t allow.
In terms of election letters, we stop running them a week before Election Day (with some very rare exceptions). Therefore, we will accept letters through 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23. We’ll run as many of those as space allows through Monday, Oct. 26, and then take the week before Election Day off. I’ll remind you of that as Election Day draws closer.
Questions or comments? Let me know.
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You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or email@example.com.
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