Letters to Editors Zoom-In Number and Testiness: For Some, It Is like the Election Season Glut Continued into the Usually Slow Winter

By Garrecht, Sarah | The Masthead, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Letters to Editors Zoom-In Number and Testiness: For Some, It Is like the Election Season Glut Continued into the Usually Slow Winter


Garrecht, Sarah, The Masthead


[This article is based in part on posts quoted with consent from a recent thread among editors on the independent, closed, EditWrite discussion list, which is available to ASNE members.]

If letters to the editor can be used as a temperature gauge on public opinion, readers across the country are running a fever.

Editors at news outlets report upticks in both the number of letters they're receiving and in the testiness of the sentiments. Writers are calling each other names, painting opponents with a broad brush, getting nasty about elected officials' actions (or lack thereof) and demanding attention from their elected officials.

The influx "never let up after the election," said Gary Crooks, opinion editor of the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. "Then it increased, and became less civil."

[A high-profile item about this was part of the New York Times Insider" piece When Readers Write Back, on p2A March 28: "Since the election, and since the inauguration, the numbers have gone up significantly," said Thomas Feyer, the Times' lead letters editor]

Crooks reports that his newspaper has banned "open letters" and that, while most of the letters are about President Trump, letter writers are also targeting their local congressional representative, a Republican.

The volume has prompted some editorial pages to reconsider the best use of their limited print space, as Chuck Frederick, the editorial page editor of the Duluth (Minnesota) News Tribune explained:

"We're inundated with letters and other submissions, election-season inundated. As we do try to publish all submissions we receive that meet our rules, we've been foregoing a weekly pro-con feature and some of the national columnists we normally run," he said.

"I've also made a conscious effort to write shorter, when possible, the News Tribune's editorials," Frederick said. "We're recognizing the need to step back to allow our readers' voices to be heard."

Trump's actions, or his very presence in the Oval Office, drove much of the traffic, some editors say. Traffic has been heaviest in anti-Trump letters, according to responses from multiple editors. Readers have a lot to say.

Jackman Wilson, editorial page editor of the Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon, said both the increase in volume and the Trump theme carry through in letters and also "in the number of column-length submissions."

The more we can publish, the better, editors seem to agree.

Gary E. Nelson who oversees the editorial page at the (Medford) Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings, both in Oregon, said:

"The volume is similar to election season, which is unheard of at this time of year.

"The new Trump administration and more specifically concern about the future of the Affordable Care Act is driving much of it.

"Primarily anti-Trump letters--liberals always tend to write more letters than conservatives for whatever reason, which causes conservatives to accuse us of running only letters we agree with. …

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