“Y’all get a lot of letters down there at The Pilot, don't you?” an acquaintance asked after stopping me on the street the other day. “How do you decide which ones to publish?”
Two good questions. Let me take them one at a time.
First: Yes, we do receive a lot of letters. I’ve long been proud of that fact. And so has our publisher, David Woronoff, who has always put great importance on them. I believe we routinely receive and publish maybe two or three times as many letters in our “The Public Speaking” spot as the average newspaper our size.
Part of the reason has to do with the thoughtful and concerned and involved and creative nature of so much of the citizenry of this community we call home. But I also like to think that the steady flow of good and sometimes provocative letters is a reflection of the value we at the paper put on them, and the care with which we handle and publish them. In short, we welcome letters and take them seriously.
When I first moved here to become editor of The Pilot (can it really have been 20 years ago?), the technology was quite different. Most of the letters we received were either handwritten or typed on paper and came to us in the snail mail. That meant they had to be laboriously retyped, a task that for a number of years often fell to the late Opinion Editor Brent Hackney and others.
Having semi-retired and become opinion editor myself five years ago, I now mostly handle the letters, among other things. And most of them now come to us digitally, either as emails or via our website, www.thepilot.com. That’s a good thing, since it allows us to capture the original keystrokes, which makes things easier and quicker and more accurate.
But I have taken too long getting back to that second question: How do we decide which of the letters we receive to publish? The quick answer is easy. We try hard to print all of them that we get.
Having made that sweeping statement to my questioner the other day, however, I needed to quickly add some qualifications. Let me pass them along here in the form of a few quick requests to make things go smoother and our jobs easier:
* First, please take care to limit your missive to our long-standing 300-word ceiling, which is something our website actually requires you to do. And please don’t expect us to do any major trimming, since you will probably think we took out the best parts.
* Your letter has to include your name and your town of residence, which we have to be able to confirm. No initials, please. And no substituting of a phrase like “Angry Mother” for your genuine monicker. A couple’s signature, such as “Sam and Mary Jones,” is fine, but no multiple names or group names beyond that, please.
* We ask for your phone number for confirmation purposes, though it will not be published.
* No profanity. And no libel, which means no legally actionable accusations or insults aimed at others, since we could end up being in as much hot water for publishing them as you would be for writing them.
* Please don’t hit us up too often. Though we do not observe a formal frequency limit, it is possible for you to wear out your welcome and get sidelined at busy times.
* Though we obviously get a lot of letters about national issues in this time of extreme political conflict, it is always refreshing to hear from a reader about a purely local matter. We are, after all, a community paper.
* On occasion, if your message is especially compelling or funny or interesting, I might surprise you by asking you to consider expanding your letter instead of condensing it, so that we might use it as a guest column. Those typically range in the neighborhood of 750 words.
* As long as I’ve got your attention, let me mention a couple of piddly-seeming requests. First: Regardless of what our high school typing teachers all told us, remember that newspapers use only one space after a period. And second: Please don’t try to power up your message by using ALL CAPITAL LETTERS or adding four exclamation points!!!!
* Last but not least, letters need to make at least a lick of sense, though some readers might say we’re sometimes pretty lenient with others in that regard.
Anyway, enough shoptalk. As they used to say on the old radio shows, “Keep those cards and letters coming, folks.” We love to get them, and our readers love reading them. Mostly.
Contact Steve Bouser at (910) 693-2470 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.