Reader input letters 101

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In light of a previous question about the Folsom Telegraph’s opinion section — concerning whose letters and columns get printed, and why — now is a good time to clarify our policy for publishing opinions, whether they’re ours or someone else’s. Many readers are probably familiar with this, but once in a while it’s good to refresh.

Bottom line: Opinions from anybody are welcome, of any background or political persuasion, as long as they follow basic, common-sense rules for public discourse in print. Mostly that means no personal insults or libel, no plagiarism, no deliberately spreading false information and otherwise no material that would be irresponsible for us to put out into the world.

Keeping that in mind, we hope letters will be thoughtful, sincere attempts by readers to share something of value with the community. With letters to the editor, we limit people to 350 words and one submission per month. Columnists have a little more wiggle room, but they’re expected to clear a higher bar for quality and substance and guest columns must have prior approval by the management of the newspaper before they are submitted. 

We prioritize local writers and issues, although letters on national and world topics are also welcome. We do not to print promotional or self-serving letters or those that critique a business’ goods and services, because that’s not what a newspaper’s opinion section is for. Businesses looking to promote their goods and services should do so through paid advertising.

We have also, very rarely, had to spike letters that were inappropriate for other reasons — laced with expletives, even racism or personal attacks. For example, there’s a difference between saying a politician’s policies are terrible, which is open for discussion, and saying his supporters are morons, which we won’t print in any of our newspapers.

In any case, we try to run every letter to the editor we get, in chronological order of receipt, that fits within these guidelines. Sometimes, as in the past year or so, most of the letters lean toward one political side or another because of what’s in the news and which groups are most mobilized and vocal at the time.

This is why we’re reiterating our policy: A few readers have mentioned how many letters to the editor this year have taken similar political stances on this or that issue, and we want all concerned to know, those are just the letters we received. If you haven’t seen your views — right, left, center or undefined — represented in The Folsom Telegraph or our affiliates, we encourage you to write in and share them with us. It’s likely that other readers feel the same way.

While a newspaper doesn’t “owe” every person a podium to express themselves, it serves its community in part by recording and reflecting people’s thoughts at the time. The First Amendment isn’t just about your right to express yourself — it’s also about your right to hear the opinions of others and not be sheltered from new arguments and information. It’s about your right to receive, as well as give; to learn, as well as teach.

So we welcome thoughtful new perspectives, and most of all to prevent the kind of information silos that are dividing the nation. Remember this is your community newspaper, too.