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It's Our Turn: Everything you wanted to know about letters to the editor

I received about 500 letters last year.

No, I don’t belong to some kind of pen pal club. These were letters not addressed to me personally, but as letters to the editor, which were published here on our Opinion page.

I love getting these kinds of letters. Reading other people’s reactions to our stories or their take on hot news topics can be frustrating at times but also day-brightening, fascinating and fun.

Some letters prompt an immediate, capitalized “YES!” in my head. I agree with their thoughts 100 percent and I actually get a bit jealous at their ability to state their opinion so eloquently and succinctly. (After all, they only have 300 words to state their case.) Many times, I’ll have a good idea for an editorial but after reading one of those letters that addresses the same topic, I just want to write, “Ditto!”

Some letters I disagree with so vehemently, I want to crumple them up in a ball or write a zinger of an editor’s note at the end. But I don’t. After my initial reaction quickly fades away, I realize that everyone is entitled to an opinion and a way to voice that opinion in an open, non-judgmental way. Not letting those voices be heard would not only amount to censorship, but it would also deprive others of the right to address what some people in the community, not just that letter writer, may be thinking.

If a person has a valid argument, they should be able to withstand the test of other people’s scrutiny. That’s why I have no problem putting in letters that I personally disagree with 100 percent. At the very least, the letters should spark some more debate and the chance for people to hone their own opinions in response.

Contrary to what some may think, the newspaper publishes virtually every letter to the editor we receive, as long as it’s signed, meets our guidelines for length (300 words maximum), doesn’t attack others personally and isn’t libelous.

There’s one other part of our policy that sometimes gets overlooked: We allow a letter writer just one letter every 30 days. We enacted this policy years ago after receiving letters from the same small group of writers addressing the same topics week after week. So we started the policy to encourage more letters from a wider net of readers. I think it’s worked well. Letter writers are addressing a wide array of topics and there are always new voices jumping into a debate.

I ask readers to do me one favor: If you hear someone grumbling that his or her letter to the editor wasn’t printed, ask the person a few questions: Did they put their real, actual name on the letter? Did they send the letter to the correct e-mail or address? Did they keep the letter to the 300-word maximum? Did they abide by the newspaper’s other letter guidelines? Did they include a phone number or some way of contacting them if there were questions about the letter? Did they check with the newspaper after a week or so to see why their letter wasn’t printed? Because of the amount of letters the newspaper receives, it may take a couple of weeks for a letter to get in, especially if the topic isn’t time sensitive.

I know your letter is important. You are entitled to have an opinion and to share it with others. The letter to the editor is the perfect place to do it. So drop me a line, anytime.

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“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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