Pen Pals are Real Pals

Keep writing to us; it's our pleasure to print your letters

readers

It's difficult, sometimes, to edit letters down to a size that we can print in the space shared by all of our respondents, but we attempt in every instance to retain the meaning of the principal point or points being made by the writers. Some letters do arrive in versions so lengthy they would take up several pages of space, and those cannot be printed in their entirety.

 

Receiving letters to the editor is one of the true joys of publishing. Gaining the opinions of readers ranks right up there, in terms of gratification, with expressing our own opinions and conveying the information we decide is useful, current, and germane to our community. It means that we are stimulating ideas and thoughtful responses to what we publish.

If you read us regularly, you probably realize that we get some doozies. We make a special effort to print all of the letters that are critical of our publication's contents, unless there are too many of them on a given subject. We also print some that are congratulatory, if they say why, or if they elaborate on an issue in some way.

It's difficult, sometimes, to edit letters down to a size that we can print in the space shared by all of our respondents, but we attempt in every instance to retain the meaning of the principal point or points being made by the writers. Some letters do arrive in versions so lengthy they would take up several pages of space, and those cannot be printed in their entirety.

Verifying the authorship of some letters can be an exasperating experience, and we verify them all. That's why we ask for telephone and address information with each submission. We don't want someone writing in under someone else's name, and we don't accept any anonymous correspondence. In unusual circumstances, when we have confirmed authorship and have discussed the writer's request for anonymity, we may withhold the author's name for good reason, such as criticism of his or her employer. 

We also try to assure that the letters we publish are addressed to Metro Pulse alone, not blanket-mailed to us and other publications. We do that because we believe that the people who take the time and trouble to compose their thoughts and send them to us deserve the courtesy of our consideration, above the opinions of people who want to find their ideas in print more broadly.

That brings us to the edge of a current controversy over styles of submission. There are special interest groups with agendas so important to them that they will solicit individuals to e-mail or mail in letters that are centrally composed by such groups, expressing a certain political or social position. Some are even individualized, but most are form letters requiring only the solicited persons' signatures of affirmation.

Editors are wary of such devices. Many editors utterly refuse to publish those letters when they are found to be authored by a second party. Some editors have gone so far as to call the practice institutionalized plagiarism. Whether it amounts to plagiarism or not, it is intellectually dishonest to claim that one wrote something that one did not write.

It may be tempting to subscribe to a special-interest opinion literally, by signing and sending on a letter that is presented by some group or other. We have developed into a cut-and-paste society in some ways, with constraints on our time and with the ready availability of computer e-mail. But letters generated for mass distribution, or even specific distribution, by organizations or interests other than the signer, are more like petitions than correspondence, and we don't feel that they belong on our letters pages. They simply don't command the respect, whether or not we might agree with their premises, that individual writers' works do.

Some of those special-interest providers of canned opinion get a little saucy about editors' refusal to accept their output as legitimate correspondence. They react as if their freedom of expression is being infringed, as though they have some innate right to be published one way or another, even under the name of anyone who may agree with them.

To them, we have to say, "T.S." That's not what a free press is all about. If they feel that way, they should start their own publication and go to the expense of printing and distributing it.

We publish our guidelines for Incoming Mail as frequently as possible. These are those guidelines, to which we should add in the future the admonition that second-party correspondence is unacceptable:

"Letters to the editor should be brief and to the point. Preference is given to those that are short and are directed at local subjects. The editors reserve the right to edit any letter for clarity of content and length. Anonymous correspondence will not be published. The writer must include name, address, and telephone contact information with each letter. Address submissions to Editor, Metro Pulse, 602 S. Gay Street, Knoxville 37902 or e-mail editor@metropulse.com ."

We require our correspondents to go to a little trouble, and we take a little trouble to get their authorship confirmed and their thoughts in good order and good English. We correct misspellings as we see them, and we convert some expressions to newspaper style for consistency's sake—%, for instance, is spelled out as percent. Keep writing, and we'll keep printing your letters.

We see the result as more than worthwhile. As we said, it's one of the more rewarding aspects of publishing a newspaper, getting the written responses of some of our readers and sharing them with all of our readers. If you disagree with our principles regarding our correspondence and its publication, please feel free to let us know...in print or online.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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