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Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868

Guidelines for 'letters'

There are guidelines to follow for 'letters'

October 04, 2011

So, what constitutes a "Letter to the Editor" in the newspaper.

That's a question several of us at the Itemizer-Observer have been pondering recently.

The topic comes up from time to time in the newsroom, but it has been particularly debated recently due to a large number of letters submitted to the newspaper that don't follow the usual guidelines of what gets printed on the opinion page.

These letters, many of which have been rejected and gone unpublished, are gripe sessions, free promotions, attacks on businesses or individuals, libelous in nature or factually inaccurate ... I think you get the idea.

At most newspapers, a Letter to the Editor focuses on a current topic or issue of interest to the community at large. The quality of education in our schools, the pros and cons of urban renewal districts, the image of our cities, downtown parking issues, the good and bad of local government, praising volunteers in our communities, business recruitment ... those are issues.

Criticism of a grocery store's return policy, why one store's fresh meat prices are higher than anothers, the poor work of an auto mechanic, a poem ... those are topics that don't fit the description of a Letter to the Editor at most newspapers, including the one you are reading.

Here at the I-O, letters that focus on personal grievances will not be published. Attacks on business will be rejected, as will testimonials praising a particular business or service provided by an individual. There is a fine line between a simple thank you note -- which we usually publish -- and what reads as a free ad or self-promotion.

And speaking of "thank you letters," most newspapers do not publish these as Letters to the Editor. The I-O historically has done so, but effective Jan. 1, we will be creating a new spot in the newspaper for "thanks yous." More on this to come in the weeks ahead. Also, "cards of thanks" are not published as Letters to the Editor.

Evaluation of Letters to the Editor is inherently subjective. Our goal each week with the editorial page is to present a wide range of lively, thoughtful, intelligent and provocative commentary in our Letters to the Editor section. We hope you agree.

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