Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Local elections -- specifically the races for Walla Walla County sheriff, Columbia County sheriff and Columbia County prosecutor -- (plus the current Inland Octopus mural/sign flap) have resulted in a flood of letters to the editor. No, make that a full-blown tsunami.
At almost any other newspaper the majority of the letters would be put in the trash. Only a select few letters, a "representative sample," would be published.
But at the Union-Bulletin our goal is to publish every letter. This is why readers have seen pages and pages of letters printed day after day. It is likely going to continue until Oct. 31.
The deadline for election letters to be in the Union-Bulletin office (or, preferably, my computer -- email@example.com) is noon on Oct. 26. That's one week before Election Day, Nov. 2. And when I say noon, I mean noon. If a letter comes in at 12:01 it's not going to run regardless of the circumstances. A firm line has to be drawn in order to be fair to all.
If, however, you are waiting until Oct. 26 to turn in a letter, you aren't doing yourself or the candidates you support any favor.
That wasn't always the case. People used to wait until just before the deadline because they wanted their letter printed in the Sunday paper before the election. It was their way of having the last word before folks went to the polls.
Nobody goes to the polls anymore. Walla Walla County, like almost every county in Washington, is vote-by-mail only.
The ballots for the election were mailed on Friday, which means most voters received their ballots Saturday or Monday. They started voting right away.
Those who study these things found that about 25 percent of voters cast their ballots the day they arrive. Another 25 percent wait until just before election day. The remaining half send their ballots in at an even pace over that two-week period.
This means that those who waited to send their letters to the U-B have missed an opportunity to have their letters seen by all voters. Every day that passes means more opportunity is lost.
Still, every effort is made to get your letters in the paper as soon as possible. We are now putting letters on pages that are usually reserved for news.
But we believe the extra space and extra effort serves our readers. The Our Readers' Opinions column is among the most, if not the most, popular features in the Union-Bulletin. It's a forum that's seen by a large audience and therefore becomes a great place for the community to communicate.
And not only are there more letters in the U-B than most newspapers, but the letters are longer. The U-B's word limit is 400 words while the majority of papers limit letters to 200 words.
We have considered imposing a 200- or 250-word limit to reduce the space needed to publish letters, but we haven't been able to pull the trigger. The 400-word limit is the standard our readers seem to like and feel most comfortable. Plus, sometimes it takes 400 words to make a point when dealing with complex issues.
Shorter letters, however, probably have higher readership as they simply look more inviting.
Whether short or long, your letters to the editor are very, very popular.
And those who are planning to send in letters please send them through e-mail. This eliminates us having to retype the letter. In addition, it reduces the chance of mistakes getting typed into your letter.
Before letter writers hit the send button, they should proofread their letters and try to format them similar to what they see in the paper. Sending in a single 400-word block of copy with no paragraph breaks (or sometimes with no punctuation) can be tough to edit. It's even tougher when the whole thing is typed with the caps lock on.
But regardless of how the letters are typed -- or even if they are hand written -- we will make every effort to get them in the paper as quickly as possible.
Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail them to P.O. Box 1358 or hand deliver them to First Avenue and Poplar Street.
Rick Eskil can be reached at email@example.com or 509-526-8309