February 24, 2007 in Opinion

Why are the letters in that order?

The Spokesman-Review
 

Excerpts

In our online column, “Ask the Editors,” we field questions from you about our journalistic practices, ethics and daily operations.

Here are excerpts from the column, which appears at www.spokesman review.com/ blogs/editors

Question: This question concerns the position of letters printed in the letters to the editor section of the paper. I could be wrong, but as a long-time reader (and sometimes contributor) to this section, it seems to me that letters having to do with the Middle East situation, specifically letters that discuss the pros and cons of either the Israeli or Palestinian positions, are placed at the end of the section. I’m not implying that there is any discrimination or intentional bias in this; I’m just curious. It just seems like I can count on looking in that area for those letters. Am I imagining this? – Phil Bergin, Spokane

Answer: It’s not your imagination. Our fine letters coordinator, Lynn Swanbom, says she usually leads the letters page with comments about close-to-home issues. Why not let her tell it?

“Because we’re a regional newspaper,” she says, “I like to put letters first that respond to staff-produced material, particularly front-page stories, or letters that offer a fresh perspective or local topic that hasn’t been seen recently on the page. Most of the Middle East letters don’t fit that bill.

“Other factors sometimes influence placement choices. Especially if we have a new writer contributing, I like to give him/her placement priority over those who submit letters every 30 days. I also prefer letters that are well-worded and more informative than polemic in the leading spot. But a smooth transition of topic and geography is the main goal in putting the letters in order. Depending on what we have to work with, sometimes it ‘works’ better than others.”

I think Lynn has a sound approach. I’m glad we got a chance to explain it. – Doug Floyd, editorial page editor

Question: I’m stunned to see that there has been no mention here of the front page article in the Seattle Times on Tuesday, regarding George Nethercutt and his cozy relationship with a local Spokane firm, which after contributing heavily to his re-election campaigns received numerous government contracts worth well over $50 million. After Nethercutt’s retirement from the House, he was installed on the board of directors of the same company. What a surprise.

When people have complained about the S-R’s national news coverage and its continued use of columnists who have a lousy track record of accuracy in evaluating the performance of the president and the war in Iraq, we have been told that the paper’s mission is to cover local news in more depth, because more people are using the Internet to get national news. As a consequence, we have a series of factless articles about Jack Lynch and front page articles about the ills lawyers of the Catholic diocese have suffered.

Could that be that we’re missing this very important local story because it reflects quite badly on the Republican business network that runs this town? – Greg Presley

Answer: You incorrectly implied that we chose not to run the Seattle Times story about George Nethercutt because it reflects badly on the Republican business network. Our editors read the Nethercutt story, too, with interest. One of the news services we subscribe to has rights to the story and it has agreed to send us a full copy of the article. We intend to publish it on Sunday. As you know, the story is quite lengthy and it is difficult to devote the kind of news space it requires in a typical weekday paper. Sunday is our largest paper of the week and we plan to devote the space required to print it. – Gary Graham, managing editor


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