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Letter writers improve opportunity for publication by following Star-Telegram guidelines

Posted Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010 0 comments  Print Share Share Reprints

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labbe The Star-Telegram's letters-to-the-editor policy is not lengthy or confusing. Brief enough to fit inside a small box on the Opinion Page, it says the newspaper welcomes views as long as they are the author's original work and about 200 words.

The editorial department strives to get as many opinions as possible in a finite amount of space each day, so letters with fewer than 200 words are much more likely to be published than longer ones.

If a writer e-mails a letter that exceeds 200 words, a reply e-mail will ask for an edited version. If the letter comes via fax or the postal service, the sad truth is that the opinion within will die unexpressed. We receive more submissions than we can ever publish from people who do follow the guidelines. Investing energy into chasing down folks who don't isn't the best use of staff time.

The policy also requests writers' full names, addresses and daytime and home telephone numbers. Street addresses and phone numbers are never published, just the author's name and city of residence.

We ask for names because the Star-Telegram does not publish anonymous letters, nor do we withhold a writer's name upon request. Our editorial staff believes that if people feel strongly enough about an issue to write a letter meant for the world to see, then they need to stand behind what they say by signing their names. Every local article printed in the newspaper bears the name of the person who researched and wrote the report. Commentaries produced either by staff members or guest columnists bear the names of the authors. We ask the same of letter writers.

The request for the daytime and home phone numbers is made so we can verify authorship. That may sound overly suspicious, but you'd be surprised at the number of letters received throughout the years that weren't written by the person whose name appeared on them.

That verification process can only go so far. I once received several political letters that I knew in my heart were not written by the person who signed them. But when I called the "writer" to verify authorship, the person staunchly claimed to be the author. I will go to my grave believing they were written by the "writer's" child, who was a member of an area city council.

Letters without the contact information won't be considered.

It amazes me that people can be passionate enough about an issue that they invest time and energy to write a letter, yet eliminate the opportunity to share their thoughts with our readers because they didn't follow these simple guidelines. Perhaps the exercise of writing the letter is therapeutic enough to cleanse their minds and purge their feelings.

Although not included in the printed guidelines, letters about local issues are given priority for publication over those about national or international issues. The Star-Telegram's primary mission is to provide news and commentary about the North Texas communities in which our readers live -- opinion content that can't be found anywhere else. So if the editor's choice is between a letter about natural gas drilling in the Barnett Shale or Israeli settlements in the West Bank, gas drilling will prevail.

The Star-Telegram receives hundreds of letters every month -- and even more if you add in Cheers and Jeers submissions. Space limitations make it impossible to publish them all, but the editorial staff is determined to get as many into print as we can. Just remember -- short, to the point, with name, address and phone number.

Jill "J.R." Labbe is editorial director of the Star-Telegram.


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