“Why does Lincoln get 250 and the rest of us a measly 150?”
Thomas Feyer, who edits the Letters to the Editor section of the New York Times, wrote about receiving this query from a sardonic reader when he suggested that letters should be limited to 150 words, or as brief as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Brevity, of course, is a key element of a good letter. But Feyer had another practical reason: he and his small staff have to sift through hundreds of thousands of letters that they receive-every day-in print and online.
Thankfully, a smaller publication like the Anglican Journal doesn’t have this same challenge. But, the Journal does receive its fair share of letters, some even handwritten. This is good news: an engaged, opinionated readership is a sign that readers care about their church and their world. It also means that the newspaper still matters.
Letters from readers are so essential that no publication will ever contemplate doing away with them. The Letters to the Editor section is akin to a public square, with its capacity to provoke thought and encourage robust discussion about issues that affect people’s lives, and to share constructive criticisms, knowledge and-if one gets lucky-new, astounding points of view.
The Journal’s Letters to the Editor section provides a forum for a variety of voices in the church to be heard. The church’s diversity is reflected not just in the stories, but in the letters, where one sees a spectrum of opinion on issues, including (but not limited to) human sexuality, climate change, peace in the Middle East and assisted suicide. Some readers get upset when the newspaper publishes letters contrary to their views, but the reality is simply this: all voices need to be heard.
Why do some letters get printed or published online (anglicanjournal.com/departments/letters-to-the-editor) and others don’t see the light of day? There is no exact science behind choosing a letter. But every editor will say that dream letters are those that are succinct, original, to the point, and yes, funny. Letters that offer cogent arguments that advance, rather than hinder, discussions are gold. A surefire formula for not getting published? Write letters where you fly off the handle and resort to name-calling, innuendoes and libellous accusations. (The Journal receives a number of these-oddly enough, often signed, “In Christ’s name.”)
The Journal has not imposed a precise word count for letters, but they are edited for length, clarity and accuracy. As one editor put it, “You are entitled to your opinions, but not your own facts.”
This year marks the Journal’s 140th anniversary and the staff thanks you, dear readers, for taking the time to send your thoughts via snail mail, email, Facebook, Twitter and the comments section online at anglicanjournal.com. Keep them coming!
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