Letters to the editor help drive spirited election debate


It's election season, which means the letters-to-the-editor column - Our Readers' Opinions - will soon be overflowing.

In fact, we've already seen an increase in letters regarding the race for county sheriff, which is clearly one to watch. And while a number of letters have already been published, I'm expecting a whole lot more before voting concludes on Aug. 17.

So, with all these letters flowing into the paper, how did we pick and choose whose letter is printed?

Easy. Almost all of them. We take our readers' opinions very seriously, which is why we choose to publish nearly all of your opinions even if it means filling several pages with letters.

Still, there are a few reasons letters aren't printed. They are submitted by people who have no connection to the area (usually mass mailings), are sent anonymously, are illegible or libelous.

If letters are sent to the paper via a third party - even if it is the candidate who sends it along - it is a concern. We simply don't know if the writer of the letter intended it for publication nor do we know for certain if that letter was actually written by the person whose name is underneath it.

Another concern is that the letter was changed by the third party.

When letters are sent by a third party I'm quick to reject them and ask the author to send it via e-mail or snail mail directly to the Union-Bulletin.

When other problems with letters crop up, such as being too long, having factual errors or being offensive, I attempt to contact the letter writer by phone or e-mail to see if changes can be made so the letter can be published.

The most frequent problem is length. We limit letters to 400 words, which is a very generous limit. Most newspapers hold letters to 250 words or less. If the letter writer can't or won't trim the letter to under 400 words, I usually offer to do it. If the writer doesn't want it cut, then it doesn't run.

Whether a letter is or isn't published has nothing to do with whether it supports or conflicts with views expressed by the newspaper in its Our Opinion editorial or praises or disparages our news coverage.

We attempt to let everyone have his or her say.

Allowing all to state their views promotes diverse opinions and spirited debate within the community. Fostering that community discussion is among the most important roles of any newspaper. The more voices that are heard, the better our readers are served.

The discussion is particularly important at election time.

When writing about the election, keep in mind the ballots for the Aug. 17 primary will be mailed on July 30.

In the days when nearly everyone went to a polling place to cast ballots on Election Day, most letter writers waited to comment on candidates or issues so their letters would be printed on or as close to the Sunday before the election. As a result, we published page after page of letters on that Sunday.

Vote by mail has changed that. It now makes more sense to get letters in early, about the time the ballots are being mailed. Still, others like to wait. That's why you will see the Viewpoints and Perspective sections filled with election letters from now until the Sunday before Primary Election Day.

The deadline for submitting letters is Aug. 10 at noon. Not 1 p.m., not 12:10 p.m., not 12:01 p.m. NOON. I hold firm to that deadline.

If you have followed the guidelines and you haven't seen your letter published within a week, PLEASE check with me.

In most cases the letter has been lost in cyberspace or was swallowed up by an overzealous spam filter.

Feel free to call me at 526-8309 or e-mail me at rickeskil@wwub.com.


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