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Shoptalk: The 411 on letters to editor

My favorite part of the newspaper — any newspaper — is the column of letters to the editor.
A glance at this section of the paper each day can tell you what’s on people’s minds, in 300 words or less.
It offers variety, insight, wit and occasional aggravation. But that’s a good thing. If you listen only to people with whom you agree, you’ll get stuck in an echo chamber with no new ideas. So it’s good to seek out different points of view.
To encourage more letter writers, here is an explanation of how the process works, in question-and-answer form.
I hope it brings in a cascade of letters.

How can I get my letter to the editor published?
So glad you asked. You can get your letter to us one of three ways.
1. Email your letter to letters@salisburypost.com
2. Use the form at the bottom of our homepage, www.salisburypost.com. (Look for “Web forms” at the bottom right.)
3. Mail your submission to Letters to the Editor, Salisbury Post, P.O .Box 4639, Salisbury, 28145.
Oops, make that four ways. You can hand-deliver your letter to us at the Post, 131 W. Innes St. We’re open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. At other times you can slip your letter through a slot on the side of the front door.

Which way do you prefer to receive letters?
To be honest, email makes the process easier; I can copy and paste instead of type the letter into our system. But we welcome all letters. Just know that letters sent by U.S. mail don’t get in the paper as promptly as those that arrive digitally.

Do I have to put my name on my letter?
Yes. We require that each letter bear the name of the person who wrote it. No anonymous comments or aliases, please. Include your phone number and address for verification purposes.
I don’t verify every letter; many of our writers’ names are familiar to me by now. But the more scathing the letter, the more likely it is that something is amiss.

Why do you limit letter writers to only once every 14 days? I can comment on your website every day.
We have limited space for letters, and it’s nice to have a good mix of topics and writers. Some people would write every day and dominate the letters column if we did not have a limit.

How long can my letter be?
Our length limit is 300 words. Letters may be edited for clarity or length. The Post often receives letters that are over the limit.
Sometimes I’ll edit down the too-long letter; sometimes I send it back.
A tip: Short, pithy letters are the most popular.

How do you choose which letters to print?
We publish nearly every letter we receive. A few get rejected for factual errors or mean-spiritedness. (Maybe more should; sometimes the line between fact and opinion is not clear.)
Sometimes I’ll work with a writer to fix a questionable letter — correct a couple of numbers or tone it down.

What do you have to do to have a guest column in the paper?
Guest columns typically are from someone addressing a subject with which they have some expertise, like Historic Salisbury Foundation Director Brian Davis writing about rehabilitation tax credits or the interim director of the N.C. Transportation Museum, Kevin Cherry, writing about the significance and success of a recent event.
Then there are personal columns — people writing tributes to someone who has passed away or sharing memories of a special time. There are some gray areas.
In general, we’re not going to publish a guest column that’s a rant about local people or politics. Keep it to 300 words.

How can I get a chance to write a My Turn column?
Send us a column of 500 to 700 words, with your name, address and a photo of yourself, and we’ll take a look at it. My Turn typically runs in the Monday paper.
If you have any other questions, please send them to ecook@salisburypost.com.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.


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