To say the Our Readers' Opinions column - the letters to the editor - is merely popular is like saying the Blue Mountain Mall needs a little work. Both statements are true but don't begin to describe the situation.
The Union-Bulletin was engulfed with letters in October, the majority of them about the Nov. 2 election for Walla Walla County sheriff. Many were also about other contests, mostly about the coroner race and some Columbia County races. A few folks also weighed in about the U.S. Senate race in Washington state.
Oh, and then there was the ongoing controversy about the Inland Octopus mural. That brouhaha regarding the octopus mural - or is it a sign? - rages on and the letters are still coming in.
In the month of October, the Union-Bulletin published 353 letters to the editor. I can't say for certain whether that's a record, but I've worked at the paper for 31 years - editorial page editor since 1989 - and I've never seen anything like this.
In the past we've had a lot of letters regarding elections, but that was long before vote-by-mail did away with polling places. In those days we would receive a bunch of letters right before the deadline and then would publish eight or so pages on the Sunday before voting. It seemed like a lot at the time.
But the letters this year started in the spring as a trickle. By July, as we headed into the August primary, the pace was steady.
After a brief rest, the letters started up again and by mid-September they were flowing in at such a pace that I wasn't sure how I would get them all in the paper.
Our policy is to print all letters as long as they are less than 400 words and aren't going to land us in court. All letters are, however subject to editing for spelling, grammar, libel, taste, factuality and newspaper style.
As the letters began to pile up, I started to ask for extra pages. On Oct. 8, a Friday, I was able to secure the page next to the usual Viewpoints page, which allowed us to run 14 letters on that day. After that, the extra page or two became a regular thing.
In the month of October we ran letters on 52 pages in the 26 newspapers published.
That's a lot of space and, frankly, a huge commitment of resources to publishing letters.
We believe letters are extremely important, and not just because they are popular with readers. Our Readers' Opinions is a forum that's seen by a large audience and therefore becomes a great place for the community to communicate.
Regardless of what candidate you backed, you would have to concede that by the time the votes were counted just about everything that could be said had been said about the contest for Walla Walla County sheriff and the other candidates.
I had a great many people talk to me about the letters over the past month. All had a favorite letter or two they focused on, often with praise for the insight or sometimes just a chuckle. Some even garnered a guffaw (think belly laugh).
Hmmm. Maybe the U-B should put a spotlight on letters that move or delight readers. How about having an "official" letter of the month?
But how would a letter of the month be selected?
If I or anybody at the U-B were the sole selectors, the pick would be looked at for bias. While I am confident we would be fair, the potential for controversy is unnecessary when trying to do something positive such as highlight a letter written by a reader.
So I was thinking it would be best to have the readers select. After all, it is the readers who are writing.
Perhaps readers could send in nominations throughout the month and then the field could be narrowed to three finalists. Maybe a rotating panel of readers could be the ones to narrow the field. Then readers would have a few days to make their selections by phone, mail, e-mail and on our website.
What do you think?
I'll consider your ideas and thoughts in putting together a "Letter of the Month" contest.
If all goes well, maybe we could give away a modest prize to go along with the glory and public adoration.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 526-8309. You can write me at P.O Box 1358, Walla Walla.