Letters to the editor provide our readers with the chance to say how they feel about a host of challenges our communities face, how they are being dealt with, and how our elected officials are performing. We encourage our readers to write. The best editorial page is one on which our readers provide a wide variety of views.
Letters to the editor offer a safe space for what is generally a civil conversation. And, perhaps, by being civil in what we have to say to one another, we open the door to teaching or learning, or both.
As we consider publishing the letters we receive, there are a few rules that we apply:
– One basic rule is that we want letters from local writers with our subscribers shown preference when there are a number of letters on the same topic. We get letters from far and wide. They come from outside this region and even other states. Letters that are not local, or that are not from subscribers, are unlikely to get printed.
– All letters must be signed with an address. They must also contain a phone number by which we can verify the sender’s identity. We will not publish the address or phone number. We only identify the town where the letter writer lives.
– We ask that writers know the facts of what they are writing about. Rumors and half-truths are not the stuff on which letters should be based. Letters that contain provably false information will not be printed.
– Letters should be no more than 350 words. State clearly and precisely your point or points.
– We will carry one letter per person per month unless the person is the direct subject of a letter.
– We don’t print letters that attack individuals. You can challenge a belief or a way of life that you don’t agree with, but you can’t attack the individual whose lifestyle you disagree with or find offensive.
– Language that threatens harm or incites action to harm an individual or group is hate speech and we don’t print it.
– Letters that are generated by an artificial intelligence program will not be printed. If we discover that one has slipped past us and has been printed, the person who submitted the letter will be banned from further letters. We want you to say in your own words, in your own way, what you have to say.
– We reserve the right to edit the letters for clarity.
– If a letter comes from an organization, the president, or other official representing it must sign the letter.
– Letters can’t be written by one author then split among others. We unique points of view from unique writers, even if they are in agreement on a subject.
– If we receive multiple letters on the same topic, we may choose one that is representative of the group.
We won’t hold out letters simply because we disagree with an opinion. If we were to hold all letters that offended our readers, we would be a weakened and poor reflection of the depth and breadth of people living in our community.
While we won’t print wording that is provably false, we will print letters that offend sensibilities, could be thought hurtful, to ridicule, and express intolerance.
Why do newspapers print letters that many would see as offensive? To help us answer that question, we turned to our colleagues in the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.
“First is the ‘safety valve’ role of letters to the editor – better a hateful bigot express himself with a vile opinion than with harassment or violence,” Bill Reader, an associate professor at E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, said.
Second is the importance of ensuring the community remains aware of the broad range of thought among its people, including bigotry and hatred. The letters we print allow the community to look at itself and ask, “Is this a reflection of who we are?” Those who disagree with what they read have the right to try to change that perception with their own letters.
Only being exposed to those ideas with which we agree is building walls to challenging thoughts that might give us new insights and new perspectives that help our frame of reference on the world expand. Those new ideas might make us more tolerant of others; more willing to listen and compromise.