Magazine article The Masthead

Rethinking the Rules. (Editor's Note)

Magazine article The Masthead

Rethinking the Rules. (Editor's Note)

Article excerpt

I once was on "God's" mailing list. At least once a month, he or she would send me a letter to the editor decrying the state of the planet. I sympathized with the writer's frustrations --which, if not well written, weren't that much different from Mark Twain's perspective in Letters from the Earth.

But the letters were never published.

That's because we required all letters to be verified. The writer never included a day-time telephone number and a home address. Not only that, but those letters exceeded our word limit. Plus, the writer was from out of town. The grammar and syntax would have taken hours to clean up. And the letters were full of unverifiable facts and probably libelous material.

And, frankly, I was suspicious that the writer wasn't using his real name.

"God" broke all the rules.

I wonder, sometimes, if we become slaves to letters rules.

I'm not proposing that rules be eliminated or that we print letters from "God."

But after editing this issue's Symposium on letters to the editor, I found myself thinking about how vital the letters sections are to our pages. And that led me to reflect about whether letters rules support or are in conflict with our goal of having a lively community dialogue on our pages.

Rules serve a good purpose. If the letters section is to be interactive, then giving readers guidelines helps them write letters that are more likely to be published.

Yet, think for a minute about the way we apply rules.

We frequently -- and enthusiastically -- urge people to write letters to the editor. …

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