The law of the letter

It's to put our readers' best foot forward, and not to trip them up

It’s no secret we disagree with much of what President Obama does.

But neither should it be a secret how we handle your letters to the editor – about him or anything else.

The short answer is, we do our best to handle them with care.

Letters to the editor are one of the newspaper’s most popular features. And they add vitality and provocative discourse unlike any other.

We can’t get enough of them. We strive to print every printable letter. It makes our page, and our newspaper, better. We hope it makes the community better. We believe it does.

On rare occasions a letter or poorly turned phrase is just not up to publication – and you might imagine some of the reasons why. Length can be a problem, as is the question of libel. The letters section is not a forum for custody disputes or complaints of a bad business experience – or to seek to overturn your criminal conviction. It’s a place to debate public policy, cite community concerns, and applaud the good and bemoan the bad.

But this may be the one thing in the world we have no opinion about: As long as your letter is printable and you’re accountable, we don’t care what you have to say. Our job is simply to help you say it.

And we love doing it.

We never, ever withhold a letter because we may disagree with it. We don’t play up one side or play down another. We don’t rig the discussion in any way.

Well, except one: As professional wordsmiths who care deeply about the language we share, we do our best to put your best foot forward.

That means an occasional spell-check or fact-check (though with the volume of work involved, we simply cannot check all our readers’ facts). It sometimes means realigned paragraphs or reworded phrases for clarity.

The point of it all is twofold: to put a nice polish on your work, and to help it conform to newspaper style and form. Newspapers have a rather extensive stylebook that helps us standardize such things as capitalizations, abbreviations and spellings. That makes it easier on the eyes when they dodge between newspaper articles and reader contributions; anything else would be jarring to the eye and would distract from the message.

We like to explain all this to you, our readers, periodically, but were particularly motivated this time around by a recent online comment that accused us of trying to make the president’s supporters look bad by only printing their worst efforts at letters to the editor.

It was actually quite amusing, because nothing could be further from the truth.

We suspect our friend and Richmond County Democratic Chairman Lowell Greenbaum would vouch for that. We consider Dr. Greenbaum a friend, and would never want to do anything less than present his work in its best light. We treat everyone else the same, and we want you to know that.

Nor would we intentionally disrespect the president in such a way. As much as we oppose his policies, we think it’s crucial to retain high respect for the office of the presidency and the men (and someday women) who hold it.

We aim to give our letter writers every bit of that consideration. And, while we have regulars, we don’t play favorites.

This is your forum. Have at it. And whatever you say about us or our views, we’ll gladly – and respectfully – air yours.

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