When the Nanaimo Daily News published a letter to the editor last week that attacked the character and accomplishments of First Nations people, the storm of outrage spread across the country.
The letters page is one of a newspaper’s most important elements. It’s the place where readers make their voices heard.
The letters page is the home for a respectful dialogue about things that matter to readers. The item that angered people in Nanaimo was not respectful and contributed nothing to a reasonable dialogue.
It’s a reminder that choosing letters for publication is not an exact science, but neither is it arbitrary. At the Times Colonist, we receive hundreds of letters a week, so what do we look for when choosing those for print?
We try to cover a variety of topics and a variety of opinions on those topics. That’s why we like to hear from people who normally don’t write letters and from people who argue against the positions the newspaper has taken in editorials.
Big issues, like the Capital Regional District’s recent proposal to build a sewage biosolids plant in the heart of Esquimalt, generate a lot of letters.
Within a couple of days after a new issue hits the letters page, writers start repeating the same ideas. At that point, we will reduce the number of letters we print on that issue, looking for those that bring fresh ideas.
The discussion is the key, so keep it respectful, civil and useful. Criticize ideas and policies, but not personalities. No name-calling. No attacking individuals or groups because of race, sex, age, nationality, religion, etc.
Timely letters are best. About
95 per cent of our letters come by email, which keeps the page current.
Space is limited on the page, so letters that make their points briefly are more likely to get the nod. The limit is 250 words, but if you avoid unnecessary verbiage and stick to your point, you can make an argument effectively in much less.
Many readers get excited by more than one issue, and some are so interested in current events they write every day. However, everyone is limited to one letter a month, except in very rare circumstances.
Letters must conform to legal requirements regarding defamation and confidentiality.
We’re also bound by the Criminal Code, which means you can’t say someone is guilty of an offence until they have been convicted in court.
We don’t allow anonymous letters — if you can’t put your name to your opinion, it’s not worth expressing. We will withhold a name under certain circumstances, but that’s extremely rare. Don’t use pen names. If we know you have used a phony name, we won’t run any of your letters.
When penning your letter, remember you are competing with many
others for scarce real estate. The strength of your argument, the clarity of your writing and the freshness of your approach go a long way to persuading us to use your letter because it will be more appealing to other readers.
Over more than 30 years in the news business, I have grown exasperated with letters criticizing concert reviews that begin with the words: “Was [Adrian Chamberlain, Mike Devlin, Amy Smart, any reviewer at any newspaper] at the same concert I was at?” Each letter-writer thinks he or she is being devastatingly original.
They aren’t being original, so I will chop off that sentence, just as we edit all letters for clarity, grammar, brevity, legality and other considerations. We don’t edit for conformity, so you’re free to disagree with the newspaper’s editorial position or the positions of other letter-writers.
Every day, this newspaper is full of stories about things going on in your community.
We want to know what you think about all of it.
© Copyright 2013