Here at The Herald-Dispatch, we enjoy receiving letters for publication in Voice of the People. The flow of letters waxes and wanes, but we try to even them out and run them as soon as we can after they are submitted.
If you look below, you’ll see the basic guidelines for submitting your letter. Over the years, the way we have handled letters has changed, so the best methods for seeing your letter published have changed a bit, too. Here are a few tips for getting your letter published.
First, the maximum length for a letter is about 300 words. We prefer them shorter, but if you have to write that much, go ahead. Shorter letters will probably run sooner than longer ones. Voice of the People is the last part of the Opinion Page to be put together. It fills the spot left over when the longer pieces and the cartoon have been placed on the page. We try to run letters in the order we receive them, but sometimes that order changes based on the space that is available.
We need long letters and short ones. If you can say what you want to say in about 50 words, that comes in handy when there is a small space to fill.
How often can you be in Voice of the People? The old rule was once a month, but we’ve relaxed that in recent years. Write once a week if you wish, but keep it topical and, if you hope to be a frequent writer, send us a mix of long and short letters. We have one frequent writer who sends us two or three at a time, all on different subjects.
Letters should address issues, not personalities. If you disagree with what a columnist writes, address that person’s statements. Don’t go after him or her personally. On my desk I have a couple of letters that I need to return to their writers because the disagreements got too personal.
Also, we don’t run letters criticizing a business or nonprofit for its business decisions that have nothing to do with an issue of public interest. That has become a problem during the recent hot dog wars. Letter writers want to criticize one restaurant’s hot dogs while praising the virtues of another’s. We have maybe a dozen reasons for this policy. So please, let’s avoid that.
An exception could be how a public utility or other business that is highly regulated by government performs its duties. These are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, just as we do with all other letters.
Some people ask if we will run a longer piece they submit. On those, our needs are more exacting. Letters may be more freewheeling, but when it comes to guest columns, we’re looking for people with expertise in a subject or who can assemble a large amount of information and present it succinctly. A column is not just a long letter. It needs to delve more deeply into a specific subject and go to greater effort to inform or persuade a reader.
Let me know beforehand that you would like to write a column so we can talk it through if need be. If you’ve already written it, go ahead and submit it, but give us information about yourself that we can put in the tagline at the end and so we can contact you if we have questions.
In general, please keep a column to about 550 words. In most cases, that’s about all the space we can spare.
So please, write. If you have questions, ask. I’m paid to answer them.