The Chilkat Valley News recently was criticized for its letters-to-the-editor policy.
The policy is one of dozens we’ve developed as difficult questions arise and we recognize a need for operating guidelines that are: 1) fair to the community, 2) consistent with both journalism ethics and the pursuit of truth, and 3) good business.
Our policies are not etched in stone. They are general, self-imposed rules that balance our roles both as "the community’s newspaper" and as a private, money-making business. Serving those two, very different functions is what puts privately-owned media in a unique place in society.
Our policy on letters has been written by experience. A policy allowing only two signatures came after we received a letter signed by about 50 people. A thank-you letter that named more than 100 people prompted our policy that limits those thanked to 15 individuals and 10 businesses total.
We have a policy of not printing anonymous letters, for obvious reasons. (Although many newspapers print unsigned editorials, we don’t, in part because our founder, Ray Menaker, viewed the practice as inappropriate.)
Another policy is that we print only letters from out-of-towners that reference local issues or people. Space limitations restrict our concern to what our residents think of topics outside Haines.
We generally do not publish letters aimed at private matters. If you’ve got a gripe you want to take up with your ex, we don’t owe you ink.
During election seasons (between the closing of the candidate filing period and an election), we do not print letters from political candidates.
We require the last names of individuals named in thank-you letters. If you’re thanking "Suzie," all our readers need to know who "Suzie" is. If you want to send a private message to Suzie, take it to the post office.
We assume our letter writers are sincere and we are generally tight on space. So closings like "sincerely yours," and "gratefully yours" and even creative ones like "angrily yours" get the ax. The same goes for "P.S." comments.
We’ve had a policy limiting writers to two letters a month on the same topic, with a one-month limit on rebuttals. The latter rule arose from an exchange between two, opposing letter-writers that promised to go on indefinitely. A letter may be rebutted, the original author may rebut the rebuttal, and the rebutter may rebut the orginal writer’s rebuttal. After that, we offer dueling writers paid space.
A recent posting of the CVN’s letters-to-the-editor policy said writers were welcome to submit a letter once a month. Actually, writers are welcome to submit as many letters as they like. We print all the letters that fit within our guidelines, as space allows.
We reserve the right to edit letters for libel, taste, punctuation, clarity and brevity.
We have many other policies here at the CVN. I will use this space, as necessary, to explain them and our role as your local newspaper, as we see it. We encourage you to write or call if you’re interested in how or why we do what we do.
-- Tom Morphet, editor