Use facts, not attacks in letters


People love to complain.

We know this is true, right? We see it in our daily lives, we read about it and if we are on social media it is in our faces pretty much 24/7.

Look, sometimes there is nothing better than getting some things off of your chest. A good rant can make you feel better and really clear your head. Complaining is a very human and specifically American thing to do. We complain loudly and a lot.

We love to call out things we don’t like or we don’t agree with. And it doesn’t even matter if we don’t have the whole story or are a little unclear on the actual facts. Say it loud, say it proud and hope for the best.

One place people have been registering complaints for decades has been the Letters to the Editor section of their local newspapers.

I would guess that over my 30 years in this business I have read and edited thousands of letters to the editor on pretty much every topic. The favorite, of course, is politics. I have edited thousands of those letters.

Over the years they have gone from opinion – “I don’t like or trust candidate X,” to wild accusations with no evidence – “Candidate Y buses illegal aliens to polling places to vote!” That second kind of letter has pretty much killed off the first kind of letter, sadly.

But here is the truth: I won’t run the second kind of letter without sources. If you want to make a wild accusation, make it on your Facebook page. But don’t take what you see on Facebook or in an email chain, put it in a letter and send it to the newspaper. That is not how it works.

Letters that make wild claims, which is most of them these days, need attribution. People need to know the source of the information so they can consider its legitimacy. If you want a letter to run that includes a wild claim, always include a legitimate source of that information.

And I don’t mean person one said it and person two told me so here it is. I mean a source like the Washington Post or Fox News. I don’t mean something your uncle Jeff ranted about at Thanksgiving.

Asking people for sources is something I do often, for many types of letters. And I seek them for people from the left and right of the political spectrum. One person who used to write letters often doesn’t write them at all anymore. One reason might be that I questioned a lot of the content and asked for sources. That was apparently too much.

Oh well.

People used to shoot BBs when it came to politics. They made their point with small jabs, but generally kept it from getting too personal. Then they started lobbing some grenades. Nothing too bad, but enough the get people stirred up.

Now? It is pretty much all nuclear bombs that are filled with vile personal attacks and information that my grandmother might have called hogwash. Again, that might work when talking with friends, but I won’t print those things in the newspaper.

I always appreciate a well-considered letter. A letter that makes a point without attacking anyone. A letter that if it includes information that could be questioned includes a solid source of said information.

Putting thought behind your letter will lead more people to read it and consider your opinion. And yes, give your opinion, not one you saw someone on a 24-hour news channel or on social media.

Again, personal attacks don’t make for good letters. Consider that the audience for your letter is not just people who agree with you. There will also be people who think you are a nut if you come off as ranting.

I love receiving and running your letters and encourage everyone to continue to send them. But please, be thoughtful and concise. Make a clear point without name calling and hateful language. If you really want people to read your letter and consider your opinion, write it in a way that moves them to do so.