Letters to the editor have a long and proud history in American newspapers. Letters published in newspapers played an important role, for example, in rallying communities prior to the American Revolution.
Letters to the editor may seem a little old-fashioned in the days of online commenting and Facebook, but they still play an important role in the newspaper and the community.
In this new year, we encourage Whidbey residents to consider writing a letter to the editor if there’s an issue important to them. They can be about issues reported on in the newspaper, as well as state or national news. In fact, they don’t have to be about issues: Some letters thank people, discuss events or relay vignettes.
The letters appear on the opinion page in the Whidbey News-Times — the paper version and online. It’s a unique space. It’s a place where readers who want their opinion to be heard can offer their thoughts and arguments in an extended form.
The letters in the News-Times are well read. They offer an enduring glimpse into what issues are most important to the citizens; like stories in the newspaper, the letters become part of history. It’s not uncommon for another letter writer to comment on a letter, thereby creating a dialogue in a way that’s usually more thoughtful and civilized than online chatter.
Some people suspect that the newspaper staff “cherry picks” which letters to run, but that is not the case. Most of the letters we receive from Whidbey Island residents are published, as are relevant letters from outside the community.
Obviously, we can’t run letters that are libelous or contain swear words or other inappropriate content. We don’t run anonymous letters. We don’t run letters that have obvious factual errors. In that case, we usually send a letter back, explain the issue and ask the writer to correct it.
There’s also the question of length. Since the opinion page has finite space, we ask that letters be limited to 350 to 400 words. While some people have trouble with the limit, we find it helps people to be succinct in their thoughts.
Letters to the editor can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Editor, PO Box 1200, Coupeville, WA 98239.