We try to run as many letters as possible, but for several reasons, we can’t run them all.
Here’s how that works.
Many letters we receive are “Astroturf,” or artificially generated e-mails (sometimes with a local name attached) sent out to many papers at one time. These are easy to spot to an experienced eye. We don’t print them — we want your opinion in your own words.
Some letters come from outside our readership area; while that doesn’t automatically disqualify them, unless they’re discussing an issue specific to East Texas, they don’t get in.
That leaves the locally generated letters. We get plenty of those.
Which ones make the cut? To make those decisions, we have rules and principles.
The rules are pretty clear: Letters must be no longer than 250 words, and they must not be libelous, obscene or malicious. They must be factually correct, as well (we do check).
We limit the letters we’ll print from a single writer to two in any given month (some writers send one or two letters per day). We can make exceptions, if a letter is particularly well-written, or brings up a new and intriguing point.
Now, this is very important: All letters are subject to editing. If a writer sends something in, and demands it be printed without editing or not printed at all, the decision is automatic. We’re sorry, but we can’t make that promise to anyone. Even we get edited (sometimes by three different editors).
If time permits (and it doesn’t always), I will try to send the heavily edited letter back to the author to let the author take a look at the changes. But that’s not always possible.
For the most part, letters are edited for grammar, clarity, civility and length. The civility part is very important to me. We must be able to make our points without being unkind to each other.
But letters also can be edited for content, and that’s where we get into the principles.
First, it’s our responsibility to print facts — and not print or promulgate misinformation.
I do extensive fact-checking on letters that make specific claims. For example, if a letter cites a percentage of people who don’t like the cap-and-trade bill, I’ll check the polls to be sure the number is right. If it quotes a public official or a historical figure, I will do my best to verify the quote. If I can’t verify the quote or a fact, it doesn’t go in.
Misinformation — even unverifiable information — is the reason many letters don’t get printed.
We also don’t like to see Bible quotes in letters. Why? The Bible is a pretty big book. I guarantee you that if you quote the Bible in your letter, we’ll receive another letter with a quote that contradicts yours within a matter of days. So let’s stick to more earthly arguments.
We also don’t print letters to politicians — even “open letters.” Letters should be addressed to the editor of the Tyler Paper, not to Smith County commissioners or President Barack Obama.
Letters that over-generalize about specific populations won’t make the cut, either.
The real goal of the letters column isn’t just to let people blow off steam in a very public manner. It’s to advance the discussion.
That’s why letters should be about policies, not about people — with the exception of personal endorsements in election season, and even then, we’re going to be very careful.
Ad hominem (personal) attacks are not useful in advancing the discussion, so they don’t get printed. Simply attacking a politician personally — or even worse, another letter-writer — and not discussing specific policies or plans or positions, isn’t going to get a letter published.
Sarcasm and satire usually don’t work in a letter simply because many readers won’t get it.
And we do not print anonymous letters.
The most effective letter makes a single point, expressing an opinion on a single topic, strongly.
If it makes any claim, it supports that claim with either factual examples or logic. It states the writer’s position without rancor.
At best, it appeals to the undecided — isn’t that the letter writer’s intent, anyway, to influence opinion?
I am always happy to talk with a letter-writer. Call me. If your letter wasn’t printed, we can find out the reasons, and I’ll try to work with you on making something print-ready.
My number is 903-596-6291. The e-mail is email@example.com.