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Published: Sunday, 12/25/2011

COMMENTARY

An invitation, and not just for the holidays

BY DAVID KUSHMA
BLADE EDITOR

At the risk of mixing up my two favorite holidays, I want to give thanks this Christmas Day for the thousands of gifts you have given The Blade and its readers throughout 2011. I speak, of course, of your contributions to our Readers' Forum.

Letters to the editor remain among the best-read features of newspapers, including this one. Again this year, The Blade is on track to select and publish nearly 3,000 letters from its readers, and you have sent us many more than that.

As I usually do at this time of year, I invite you to participate in our community dialogue, whether you're a first-time or inveterate letter writer. Unlike the echo chambers of talk radio and partisan or ideological Web pages, Readers' Forum allows a diverse array of Toledoans to exchange a broad range of ideas, respectfully and responsibly. Your letters are a vital sample of what folks in this region think about the issues that matter most to us.

To keep the conversation as fresh and lively as we can, we don't impose many rules on Readers' Forum. You don't need us to tell you how to say what you think. But here are a few tips that will enhance your prospects of publication in The Blade without a great deal of editing:

Be succinct. We don't subject letters to an arbitrary word limit. But you can look at the general length of the letters we publish, and use that as a guide. A shorter letter is more likely to be published -- and read -- than a longer one.

To hold your letter to an appropriate length, decide on the main point you want to make, and start your letter there. It's better to stick to one subject per letter.

Be topical. We give preference to letters that respond specifically to news stories or opinion pieces that appeared in The Blade, especially on local or state issues. Bonus points to writers who include the headline and date of the article to which you refer. We're less interested in screeds that offer empty generalities about the dire condition of humankind, or particular elements of it.

Play it straight. Say what you mean -- and not the opposite of what you mean, with the expectation that everyone will immediately understand your satire or sarcasm or irony. We won't.

Be civil. The fact that someone -- whether the President of the United States or another letter writer -- does not share your opinion does not make that person stupid, ignorant, evil, corrupt, un-American, a liar, a coward, a hypocrite, a bigot, a socialist, a Nazi, or even necessarily wrong. Would you want to be called such things by someone who disagrees with you?

Name-calling is not argument. Libel is not free speech. One-word labels are not ideas. A letter that does not grasp these distinctions will not get a lot of consideration.

Be honest. By all means, offer objective evidence in your letter to support your argument. But remember the wisdom attributed to the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."

Don't make stuff up; we don't allow letter writers to assert "facts" that aren't true. If you cite a statistic, please provide the source ("I heard it on TV" doesn't count).

Speak for yourself. We want to hear your ideas in your words. Copying long quotes in your letter, from the Bible or any other source, won't make your point.

As we explain every day on the editorial page, we edit letters -- all letters -- for length, clarity, and accuracy. We don't rewrite readers' opinions to conform with our institutional positions, as some local conspiracy theorists bizarrely assert. We don't need to do that, because our own editorials make clear to readers where The Blade stands on big topics.

To the contrary, we pay particular attention to letters that take issue with our editorial opinions or news coverage. That helps keep us on our toes.

Finally, a few housekeeping matters: Provide your real name; we don't publish letters that are anonymous or signed with pen names. Include your daytime phone number and home street address -- for verification, not publication. If we print your letter, we'll use your name and street (if you're in Toledo) or community (if you're outside the central city).

If you want your letter to appear in The Blade, don't send it to another media outlet. Because we get many more letters than we can publish, we owe it to our readers to offer them opinions they won't see anywhere else.

Address your letter to The Blade and our readers, not a third party. Send us all the letters you want, but we limit writers to one published letter a month.

Because editing reader letters is one of the most sensitive and demanding jobs at The Blade, we assign that task to several of our most talented and experienced copy editors. We don't have the resources to negotiate editing with thousands of letter writers -- so, in fairness, we can't do that for anyone.

Instead, we make sure that our editors apply our standards equally to all letter writers. Please don't get angry when we don't make an exception for you, however brilliant your insights and sparkling your prose.

Merry Christmas, everyone -- or Happy Hanukkah or Blessed Kwanzaa, as the case may be. On behalf of my colleagues at The Blade, please accept my best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous new year, when I hope our community conversation will include even more of you.

David Kushma is editor of The Blade.

Contact him at: dkushma@theblade.com



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