This is what people in the news business call an “explainer” piece, where I offer up insights about how letters to the editor get published here at the Optic. Whether you’re a letter writer or simply a letter reader, hopefully you’ll find this informative.
I have the privilege of handling the letters sent in for publication. In a typical week, I get a steady flow of letters, mostly by e-mail, a few typed up and dropped off or mailed in, and one or two a week sent in someone’s handwriting.
The e-mailed letters are easy to process — I “slug” them with the date in which they arrive and move them to an electronic folder, where they await the next available page, generally on a first-come-first-served basis — though I do make exceptions because of the time constraints surrounding certain letters (as is the case with one of the letters below; it would be “stale” after Tuesday’s election, so I moved it to the front of the line.)
I usually edit and place each letter on an electronic Viewpoints page — part of our “pagination” process — then call the author to confirm the letter’s authenticity. However, some letter writers are so familiar to me that verification is not required, or a simple e-mail exchange suffices. I prepare the letters for publication as time and space allows.
The e-mailed letters tend to move through faster, simply because someone has to key in the typed letters and decipher the handwritten ones. That’s why, at every opportunity, I encourage electronic instead of hard-copy submissions.
Whether I agree with a letter isn’t a part of my criteria for publishing it.
In fact, I love a diversity of opinions, and usually don’t mind being criticized myself. But some letters don’t get published because of their content. I’m not likely to run unfair and unnecessary personal attacks against anyone, letters touting questionable or misleading “facts” surrounding an issue, and hate-mongering. The letters forum is intended as a way to express one’s opinion about topical issues, not to advance misinformation or to smear people, and I try to maintain those standards.
I also try to cut off tit-for-tat letter-writer debates that go on too long, and I push writers who submit multiple letters out at least a week or two to allow others to have their say. Moreover, I tend to push mil gracias letters to the back simply because there’s seldom a need to run them quickly.
Regarding long letters, let me say this: You’re not doing yourself any favors with a lengthy tome. First of all, I think shorter letters tend to get more attention; readers expect letters writers to get to the point. And if your letter is too long I might not even run it — it’s unfair to others waiting for their letters to run — or it may have to wait a long time for the extra space to open up.
You should also know that, even when the flow of letters is good and they’re all running in a timely fashion, it can still take longer than you might want. That’s because, to add efficiency to our workflow, I frequently prepare our Viewpoints pages well in advance of publication.
Then I pass it along to copy editor Art Trujillo, who does a second read through it all in an effort to catch typos and grammatical errors. Then managing editor Martín Salazar takes a look at the page before it’s cleared for publication.
At the bottom of today’s Viewpoints page is another “explainer” — under the heading “About This Page.” There, you’ll find some additional details regarding our letters policy. In preparing this column, I reviewed it and made one substantive change — lowering the maximum length for a letter from 500 to 400 words. I think that’s best for all involved.
I’ve often said that this is an outspoken community, and the letters we receive verify that. For a community and a newspaper this size, we get a lot of letters.
Keep ‘em coming. Not only do they enhance the quality and depth of our newspaper’s content, but working them through the process is also one of my favorite duties.
Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 237, or email@example.com.