No-Bad-DaysBy Don Nelson

A word of reminder about our letters-to-the editor policy: Several of you have recently sent in “open letters” to various public officials, addressed to them individually, or copies of letters that have already been sent directly to elected or appointed government types. Such contributions come in from time to time, but I’ve seen more of them lately (you can probably figure out why).

While we applaud the time, effort and civic responsibility that go into such communications, we don’t use them on our opinion pages. It’s great that you’re being a proactive citizen and want people to know it, but that’s not what the letters-to-the-editor space is for.

Letters are intended to be an expression of your thoughts, opinions, ideas and observations laid out for the general public to read and, perhaps, respond to. The letters section is a public forum for citizens to take part in and share, not a bulletin board for personal correspondence.

What I have been telling people, and will continue to suggest, is that they recast their efforts in letter-to-the-editor format so that they can be published. It’s not that difficult to do in most cases and I usually find a way to get them in the paper.

I am more lenient than most editors when it comes to what I call “please and thank you letters” from local residents — requests for assistance with a worthy community-friendly cause, or expressions of gratitude to volunteers and contributors to such causes. It’s a neighborly thing, and a way that the newspaper can help get the word out.

Some of you have probably noticed that we don’t regularly publish the periodic columns submitted by politicians in the state Legislature or Congress (some are weekly, others less frequent). It’s not a partisan thing. I don’t use them from either major party. There are other regular columns floating around out there from various organizations or self-styled pundits, and I rarely use them either.

I’m something of an outlier on this point. Many of the other weekly papers in the state do publish submitted columns on a regular basis. The papers get them for free and it’s an easy way to fill space. The elected types, or people representing organizations with a self-promotional agenda, have unedited access to the newspapers’ audiences at a nominal cost. Ostensibly, the submitted columns are meant to be informative to constituents. Sometimes they are. Mostly they’re just party line campaign materials that they want us to publish at no expense. I don’t see any reason to do that.

We also receive, on a daily basis, letters and columns submitted from around the nation and world. All of them go into the email trashcan.

Our regular columnists and cartoonists are local, independent and paid by us for their work. I much prefer giving over our limited space to them, and to our letter writers, than to generic, self-serving material meant for a broad audience. The columns we use from other publications such as High Country News are also paid for.

Occasionally an office holder (they could be elected or appointed) will offer to write a column specifically and exclusively for the Methow Valley News and its audience, typically on a particular topic. I am open to that. I don’t see us publishing a “Mayor’s Weekly Report” from either town, but last week’s article by Winthrop Mayor Anne Acheson was an example of giving an official an opportunity to explain or respond.

As for the “My Turn” columns on the opinion pages, I try to ensure that they are not just really long letters to the editor (our word limit is 350, and I enforce it out of fairness to everyone) and instead have some additional information or insight to offer. You have to make a case to me that whatever you are submitting justifies the extra space.

Not that it matters much to anyone but us, but the Methow Valley News has, over the years, won many awards for its opinion pages in the annual Washington Newspaper Publishers Association contest (we took first place last year). The judges take note of editorials, columns, letters to the editor and editorial cartoons when assessing the entries. Keeping it original, fresh and local is what we strive for every week. We appreciate everything you do to help.

 

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