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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Gary Crooks: Follow the rules on letters

I want to thank those who take the time to write letters to the editor. They’re an important part of the community conversation on current events. We don’t use every letter we get, and the leading reasons we reject letters are:

Didn’t include a street address and phone number. We won’t publish that information, but we need it to confirm authorship of a letter.

Exceeded the 200-word limit in the body of the letter (we don’t count salutations and signatures). If you use our online form – www.spokesman.com/ letters/submit/ – it will count the words for you. It will not submit a letter that exceeds the limit, which serves as a hint to shorten it.

More than one was sent per month. Each writer may have one published letter every 30 days. That does not include responses to questions posed in this column.

Couldn’t confirm a fact. I simply don’t have time to track down all of the claims in letters. I may ask you to send sources for confirmation. On a related note, we cannot use a letter in which the writer served as a reporter (as opposed to using information already published in this newspaper or elsewhere). I think it’s terrific that people attend town halls, campaign events and government meetings, but I can’t publish a letter based solely on a letter writer’s note-taking or remembrances.

If we were to pursue confirmation of these types of letters, it would devolve into a charge-and-denial cycle (he said/she said), resulting in a lot of time spent on a letter that probably won’t be published.

You didn’t write it. We routinely get cut-and-paste letters where an organization writes a letter and urges people to send them to us under their names. We call this “AstroTurf,” as in fake grassroots.

During elections, we get letters that are almost identical but with different signatures. We will run one, then move on. You are welcome to purchase an ad and have several people sign it.

Got personal. Please address letters to our readers, not to another letter writer or person in the news. No “open letters.” Focus on the issue, not the person. No name-calling or insults. We allow some leeway if the subject is a public figure.

To increase the odds of having a letter published, write it yourself, follow the rules, rely on published information for facts and figures, and keep a civil tongue.

And, finally, when I ask for more information, please note that I am not arguing against your viewpoint. I am trying to get the letter into shape for publication.

So, happy letter writing. Hope this helps.

NOT THE GOVERNMENT. The newspaper is not the nephew of Uncle Sam. We are in no way related to the federal government or any government. We are a business.

I have to make this point from time to time when accused of “censoring” letters or abridging somebody’s free speech. The First Amendment is a guarantee that government will not stifle you. It is not a guarantee that whatever you send to a business will be published.

That bit of confusion is commonplace, but I was tossed a curve last week when somebody issued a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all letters to the editor related to a particular election contest.

I won’t embarrass this person, but the nickname “Fourth Estate” doesn’t mean we’re a branch of government. FOIA submissions are requests for government records. Our letter writers entrust us with their personal information, and we will not give it out.

Opinion Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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