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Editorial - Make 2008 memorable for debate

The start of a new year is a good time to remind readers about a way they can make their opinions count in 2008: Contribute to the Echo Press Opinion page.

The start of a new year is a good time to remind readers about a way they can make their opinions count in 2008: Contribute to the Echo Press Opinion page.

Here are our guidelines:

  • Letters to the editor. The word limit is 300 words. The writer must include his or her full name, address and phone number (if possible). Only the name of the writer and the town will be printed. The other information is needed for verification purposes only. Letters must include at least one name - not just an organization.

Other things to keep in mind: The newspaper will not print letters that contain personal attacks against private individuals. Letters about public officials get a little more leeway but writers should remember that the most credible way of presenting an argument is to focus on the strengths of their own reasoning without throwing mud on someone else.

  • Commentaries. These are longer than letters to the editor but should still be fewer than 800 words. Writers of commentaries are given more space for one of two reasons: It's in direct response to a similar-sized commentary, column or editorial; or the issue is considered important enough to be given the extra space by the newspaper's editorial board.
  • Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down: Readers are invited to send the newspaper suggestions for things they like or dislike in the community. Unlike letters, a "thumb" does not have to be signed but there is no guarantee it will be printed. All the submissions are considered by the newspaper's editorial board and if it agrees with the comments, portions of the letter may be included in the "thumb." Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down appear every other Friday in place of the newspaper's editorial.

Readers sometimes ask how the newspaper decides which letters or commentaries to publish. The answer: The Echo Press publishes virtually every letter it receives, as long as it meets the guidelines mentioned earlier. We don't selectively decide which letters to print based on the opinions of its reporters or editors.
If you submit a letter but it doesn't get in, feel free to call or e-mail and check its status. It's possible the letter was held back because of space constraints and will still be printed. The newspaper also has a policy of limiting writers to one letter or commentary every 30 days. This encourages more viewpoints from a wider variety of writers.

One other way for readers to state an opinion is to post comments online at the newspaper's Web site, www.echopress.com . Some excellent observations and suggestions have been posted in the past, triggering a vigorous debate of worthy issues.

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Unfortunately, some online posters stray way off topic, focus too much attention trying to guess the identity of other posters or attack others on a personal level. Although the newspaper is under no obligation to monitor every posting (which would take up a considerable amount of time and make the newspaper more liable for the content), we do check postings from time to time. We also look into complaints about offensive postings, and when appropriate, remove a comment and block users who post unlawful or threatening remarks. We also reserve the right to stop allowing postings on sensitive stories, such as those concerning criminal cases or juvenile privacy issues.

Let's make 2008 a memorable one for generating meaningful debate of community issues. Let's leave the disrespect, name-calling and personal attacks in the past.

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