Public Editor

April 3, 2014

Leftward-tilting letters to the editor

It’s true: The letters column in the Opinion section has a balance problem sometimes. I often encourage conservative readers to help buck the trend by submitting their own letters. I know the Opinion department wants more good ones.

I’ve heard from two separate readers today about a concern that is voiced not infrequently at my lines: Why are there generally more letters to the editor from people on the left than those in the middle or on the right?

I have a lot of experience here, as I worked very closely with The Star’s letters editor for about eight years (though I no longer do). I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that part of the problem is simply that the department gets more letters from liberals — period.

And while I find it simplistic to say that the published output should reflect the proportions of what’s received, it isn’t unreasonable to say this should be at least one factor.

One issue with the pattern of conservative letters: Both sides do indeed have their share of common talking points that one hears parroted often. But it has been my experience that folks on the right tend to share mass political e-mails more often than their counterparts on the left, and many of these get sent in to the letters desk.

While I know letters editors have surely been suckered into publishing unoriginal mail, they do try to ferret out these often-shared missives. This is a place where the Internet has been both a boon and a boondoggle. It’s easier to identify copies, but they proliferate geometrically today in comparison to when they were sent via snail mail.

And lastly, one problem more common in letters from the right is that too many of them base their opinions simply on religious beliefs and not logic or argument. There’s nothing wrong with leading one’s life according to religious principles, of course — but a section labeled “Opinion” isn’t the best place to proscribe behavior based on those tenets.

I often encourage conservative readers, who are just as bright and articulate as those on the left, to help buck the trend by submitting their own letters. I know the Opinion department wants more good ones.

Some bits of advice:

1. Keep letters short. If the editor has a choice between two equally good letters, and one is half the length of the other, the shorter will usually win out.

2. Keep them original. Never copy and paste from anyone else.

3. Don’t fill them up with facts and figures that require verification. And don’t just take a talk radio pundit’s word for it. There are many “facts” about topics such as other countries’ gun laws or health care systems that are flat-out inventions by commentators.

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