It has now been nearly three months since I took over the duties of coordinating The Spokesman-Review’s opinion section. I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned in that time, as well as some recent and upcoming developments.
I want to begin by clearing up some misconceptions about letters to the editor. At the bottom of every opinion page, we include the following advisory: “Unfortunately, we don’t have space to publish all letters, nor are we able to acknowledge their receipt.” It should have served as an advisory to me as well.
When I first started, my biggest concern was running out of letters, so I acknowledged receipt of and published nearly every letter we received. This had two unexpected consequences.
First, because many people find it easier to write letters of criticism than letters of support, our letters section took on a very harsh tone, and I received several complaints about it. I have since been focusing on letters about local issues rather than about national politicians or political parties. I believe most people write letters to the editor hoping to effect some sort of change, and letters about local issues are more likely to reach their intended audiences. As the campaign season heats up, we will of course be running more letters about candidates, but at present, there are many other important, more local issues our readers want to address.
But the second – and more impactful – consequence was that I built up such a backlog of letters that they often run two weeks or more after the issue that inspired them. That might as well be two months for timely topics. I’m whittling them down, trying for a much quicker turnaround in publishing.
And one final but important point about our letters: Just because we call you to verify the authorship does not mean that your letter will run in our print edition – it’s simply a necessary step before we can even consider publishing it. We receive on average 10 to 15 letters a day, but only have space for three or four each day and about two dozen in our weekend pages, so we literally don’t have room in our print version for everything we receive. We do, however, post every letter we’ve verified on our website. We’re looking into redesigning the opinion pages, and part of the planning includes making more room for letters during the week, so the crunch for space should ease.
We’re also putting greater focus on local issues with our Guest Opinion pieces, which give local individuals, as well as civic and business leaders, an expanded forum to express themselves. And we’ve already run several “Two Views” features and have several more in the works. If you have a suggestion for a Guest Opinion or Two Views topic, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or a letter to Letters to the Editor, The Spokesman-Review, 999 W. Riverside Ave., Spokane, WA 99201.
And, finally, we’re changing up our syndicated content and how we run it. Charles Krauthammer has been ill for several months – although he is still planning to return – so the Washington Post Writers Group has been offering Marc A. Thiessen in his place, which we’ve been running. We’ve added another conservative commentator, Michael Gerson, as a regular contributor. We’ll also be adhering less strictly to the schedule of which columnist runs on any particular day. All of them write several columns a week, but waiting until their regularly scheduled day to run their columns can blunt their timeliness. And sometimes a different columnist will offer a more incisive take on an issue, so we’ll be able to choose from several options on any given topic.
And we’ve just added another Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist to our lineup: Tom Toles, my personal favorite. He is a bipartisan critic, and uses gentle humor to make his point. I hope you’ll enjoy him as much as I have over the years. Speaking of our political cartoonists, they also provide more content than we can use in our print edition, so we’re developing a section of our website where we can run all of them – in full color.
Opinion page coordinator
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