We like to hear from readers. We particularly enjoy publishing well-crafted and thought-out letters to the editors. Even if you disagree with us, if your letter brings something new to the table of public discourse, we appreciate it.
Letters with clear opinions commenting on local issues are among the most popular and powerful articles you’ll find in a weekly newspaper. This is where the public has an open venue for voicing their opinions.
At the Progress it’s rare that we don’t publish our letters to the editor. One writer was surprised that we would run his politically conservative musings since (he assumed) all the press is liberal.
We ran them. We also run far left-wing letters.
Frankly, if they are talking national politics we really don’t like them. We prefer someone commenting on what’s going on in this community. A poorly-written letter reflecting something specific to Pickens County beats a finely-crafted document on any national subject any week of the year. This is what community journalism is all about and, goodness knows, there is plenty of long-winded diatribe on national politics everywhere else you look.
When we decide what letters to run, we look at each submission individually. Since writers can address literally any subject under the sun from any point of view with any language or writing style, issuing broad rules on what we run doesn’t work. Most newspapers follow a similar letter-by-letter decision making process. If you have called our office wanting a snap decision on what we’ll run, you have likely heard us say we’ll have to see it first.
About the only set rules we have are length. It has to be 400 words or less, baring an exception. And that exception is a letter from someone who has been the subject of a story and wants to respond. If you are writing about gun control, yes we are going to cut you off at 400 words. If you feel that we have unfairly portrayed you in the paper, then we’ll give you all the space we can within reason to respond. Similarly if you are a direct participant in a news story you may be allotted more space. If you are the person whose home burned or saw the UFO, we can bend that rule.
The other area we steer clear of is personal issues and that includes letters about local businesses. There is simply too much liability involved. You may have gotten horrible service, but that business may say your demands were impossible; we’re not going to referee.
We are adding a third restriction starting with our next issue – two letters per month, per person and this includes responses.
Earlier this month, someone called to say that he would like to write on his thoughts on school budgets. We suggested that he send it as a letter to the editor since that section is just for people to sound off.
His reply caught us off-guard -- somewhat. The potential writer wasn’t sure he “wanted to be on there with all the regular nuts.”
It’s true that at times our letters page becomes a back and forth and almost every time this has happened it’s been a national subject that elicited the never-ending point/counterpoint. The replies tend to get nastier and nastier the longer the issue ferments.
We’ll take this opportunity to invite people who have shied away from the letters page to give it another shot. We want this space to be as inclusive as possible on subjects that the community feels are important. While people are free to disagree with your points, we’ll see that the letters’ page maintains a civil tone.
And for those who like to mix it up, the Progress offers a message board at www.pickensprogress.com that is open for more vigorous debate (though with some restrictions).