March 19, 1997
As a newspaper editor in a small town I see my share of “letters to the editor.” Usually they are a welcome sight. It means people are reading and taking note of events, and (thank goodness) it generates interest in the paper.
But sad as it may be these same letters can also be the bane of an editor’s existence. Because of libel laws, good taste, good grammar and a need for accuracy, changes are often necessary. For many editors this is not a problem. They make the necessary changes, referring to that little editor’s note they run occasionally which says they have that right.
Our policy has been to not rewrite – to let the character of each writer shine through. Over the years that policy has been tempered by a drive to make the letters readable, and more recently, abide with the ever changing libel laws. Believe it or not, because you are willing to sign your name does not mean the paper is absolved of all responsibility.
The above items are easy compared to the problems of signatures. Some letters arrive with no signatures. – that’s easy – we don’t print them. No matter how well written, sensible, etc. If you won’t put your name to it – it won’t be printed.
Then there are the individuals who try to place a fictitious or forged name on a letter. This can be more serious. If you do not include a phone number and address so we can verify that you are the author we will not print the letter. Recent incidents have made this necessary. Even if you bring the letter to our office we require your phone number.
What it boils down to is if you want to participate in the exchange of ideas through the letters to the editor you must be willing to stand up and be counted!
We have one more policy that is necessary to mention at this time of the year. We do not permit letters from declared candidates for public office. Our reason is simple, we want the pubic’s comments on candidates, not their own. As far as issues are concerned we offer candidates the opportunity to be interviewed on issues of importance and we usually publish a candidates’ edition.