Take a letter, Maria ...

Take a letter, Maria ... address it to my wife ...

The words of the old R.B. Greaves tune rattled around in my head this week as I pondered ways to encourage more of our readers to compose their thoughts in Letters to the Editor.

In the 21st century, we no longer need Maria to take shorthand on her steno pad. Firing off a letter can be as quick as one’s fingers can fly across a keyboard, and though the mode has changed over the years, still nothing gets your point across like a succinct, well-crafted letter.

That’s why I value our “Letters to the Editor” section so much. There are many ways in which you, the reader, can interact with the newspaper. You can pick up the phone and speak to a reporter or an editor, you can send an e-mail, you can participate in the ES Forum online, you can stop by the office, you can call “30 Seconds,” or you can kibitz about it amongst yourselves. But the most effective way to get “make your voice heard” as we like to say, is to write a Letter to the Editor.

Letter-writing isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of forethought. It takes time. And most likely it takes a 41-cent stamp. But nothing will get people talking, and thinking, like a well-written Letter to the Editor.

Having a reader’s forum is a time-honored tradition in the newspaper business. You can always judge the health of a newspaper’s entrenchment in its community by the volume and content of its Letters to the Editor. That’s why it pleases me that rarely a day goes by that we don’t publish at least one, if not more, on our Viewpoints Page (don’t bother to look up; it’s the page you’re on right now).

I’d be more happy, and you’d have a lot more to talk and think about, if more people would take advantage of this opportunity to impart your thoughts, ideas and even emotions to the rest of the readership. We have a few regulars who can always be counted on to weigh in on the issue of the day, and we have a host of others who get riled up enough about a particular topic that they feel compelled to put pen to paper.

Sure, I admit it’s a lot easier to go with ‘30 Seconds.’ All you have to do is pick up the phone, say your peace, (or in the case of evesun.com, type it in a little box) and remain in the comfort of anonymity. One could well argue that it’s a double standard that we require a signature on a letter and yet you can turn the page and say the same thing anonymously, but I’d argue that the two forums are entirely disparate. “30 Seconds” has its virtues (and when I think of some, I’ll be sure to tell you), but the comments therein, even when they are insightful and well-put, don’t have nearly the weight of a Letter to the Editor. The phone-in line and its online cousin are largely for entertainment purposes (if you take it all seriously ... well, you’re probably not reading this column), and it’s hard to pack a Socratic debate into a half-minute message. But the Letters to the Editor section is as serious as it gets. Here you have plenty of space to expound on the topic of your choice, and by signing your name to it, you have the respect and admiration that goes along with standing up for your convictions.

Our “Letters” policy is rather straightforward, and appears on this page just about every day. Here’s some ancillary info:

• We prefer letters to be typewritten, but will accept good old-fashioned cursive as long as it’s legible. And please use 8 1/2 x 11 paper – Post-It notes and napkins make me doubt your sincerity.

• Two pages or 1,000 words is the general length guideline, but we’ve certainly been known to make exceptions when the issue warrants it.

• With rare exception, we print only letters from current or former Chenango County residents.

• We do not accept form letters, like those “insert your name here” Internet junk mail letters.

• We require that letters be signed with your name, address and daytime telephone number for confirmation and clarification. Only your name and hometown will be published.

• Unsigned letters may be fun for us to read, but they won’t see print. If for some reason you can’t put your name to it, condense your thoughts and try your luck at “30 Seconds” or pick a username and jump in on the ES Forum online.

• We will accept letters via e-mail, as long as they contain the aforementioned name, address and telephone number. Following up with a hard copy in “snail mail” or calling to make sure we received it is always a good idea.

• The Evening Sun reserves publication rights on all Letters to the Editor. Basically, that means we can choose whether to publish a letter or not. During my tenure, I can honestly say that the only letters we’ve rejected were ones that didn’t adhere to the above policies, or ones that contained incidences of that ugly little thing we like to call “libel.” We have not, and will not, censor a letter simply because we disagree with what it says. In fact, disagree with us, or each other, all you want. That healthy discourse and exchange of ideas makes for a lively newspaper.

So what are you waiting for? Call Maria into the office and get working on your own Letter to the Editor. I know you’ve each got something worth saying. Make your voice heard!

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