Friday, November 4, 2011

Letter mania

No sure thing? Not so.

Here's one:

Every year in the days before an election, we'll by flooded with letters endorsing one candidate or another. Most times, it's clear the letters are part of an organized campaign from a central political location. And, naturally, when their letters aren't published, we'll be buried by phone callers complaining about us favoring the other side.

Let's start from the top (and we're talking about the print edition here; we'll get to digital later):

1. We always receive many, many more letters than we have room to publish in the newspaper - notj ust during political season, by the way, but all year round. We estimate the publication at about 35 percent. So lots of people are going to be disappointed, because they believe their letters are the most important, interesting and best written of the bunch.

2. If the letters are long - as are too many - they almost always go to the bottom of the stack, never to see the light of day. We do print the occasional long letter, but it has to be compelling, in the editor's view. Long letters about candidates that essentially say they're nice guys don't have a chance (nor, to be truthful, do short letters saying the same thing).

3. The goal is to print a representative number of letters. That is, if we receive 50 letters on a subject and/or candidate, say 40 on one side and 10 on the other, you won't see all 50 in print. But you're likely to see five, four on one side and one on the other.

4. How can otherwise intelligent people think that if they send in letters in the last days of a political campaign, there's still time for them to be published? All newspapers establish cut-off dates. In our case, we've historically marked the last day for publication of campaign letters as the Sunday before Election Day. How much you want to bet more letters will arrive Monday or even Tuesday? Happens every year. And even those that show up a week before Election Day aren't likely to get in. Why? Because there are literally scores of them already in line. The exception could be a lucky tardy letter writer whose missive just happens to fit into last-minute hole on a page.

This year, three campaigns have generated the most heat: Ulster County district attorney, Saugerties and Rosendale town boards. The latter has been particularly active the last several days, one party chair admitting her side is in the middle of a last-minute letter-writing blitz and demanding to know why more letters aren't being printed. Please see above.

Remember, we're talking about the print publication here and we're describing an age-old problem. Which is yet another reason why newspapers are making the leap into digital.

Have something to say on our web page? Go at it. No space limitations, no time constraints and very little moderating on the newspaper's part. Pick a story at, and comment away. You have to register with your real first and last names. If you're not brave enough to attach your opinion to your name for the public's edification, come up with a screen name and your anonymity will be protected. All we ask if for you to keep it clean and tasteful (admittedly a subjective determination). And, of course, no libel. Absent any transgressions, your posts will be approved in due time. They're reviewed periodically on weekdays, less frequently nights and weekends, so have a little patience. (Another sure thing: Some hot head will complain that his/her posts have been blocked because we don't agree with them. Let it be repeated for the umpteenth time that if the only posts the editors approved who those with which we agreed, there would be far fewer on the site. Catch our drift?)

Now, about that wager: How much you want to bet that we'll have to repeat this explanatory blog this time next year?
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