The reasons behind the rules
It's always interesting how the things we do can take on a life of their own after we do them.
For example, the Lake Oswego Review receives a number of opinion pieces (letters to the editor and the longer citizen's views) each week. Invariably, the writers opine about whatever might be on their minds. Sometimes these are done in a positive way, sometimes negative and sometimes writers use 'facts' to support their points of view.
With two important city measures on the ballot in November, it is obvious that people are already busily exercising their writing rights .
Our policy, which we try to run every week (shown below at left), details some of the specifics about our rules: Deadlines, word length, the difference between letters, political letters and citizen's views - that sort of thing. It also spells out that there is a limit of one citizen's view per person in any calendar month.
On the political side, our policy states: 'Only candidates themselves will be allowed to write citizen's views and no citizen's views are allowed on ballot measures with the exception of measures that are Lake Oswego-specific.'
Despite our efforts, there are times when some of our readers seem confused over opinion pieces.
Here are a couple of things that we do that may be of interest to you:
n We require that everyone submitting an opinion piece provide his or her phone number and address. We don't run those items, but we do use them occasionally as a way to check on the legitimacy of the writer or as a way to get back to the writer with questions. And yes, we have had some bogus letters sent to us.
n There are times when a writer raises a point that needs amplification or clarification. When that happens, we try to go to the official source to get a response in that same issue. Our feeling is that it is better to have the question and answer all in the same package in the same newspaper than wait a week for the response. This often is a gut decision on making the call to get a response. Many times we strive for a response and get turned down. Readers don't see that side of the operation.
n One of our rules simply states: 'Letters brought to the Review by a third party will not be published.' We truly mean this. The purpose isn't to be punitive or vindictive, but rather there are times people write letters without intending them to appear in the paper. We have checked in the past and become painfully aware of this situation.
n If a letter or citizen's view is too long, has objectionable content or causes other concerns, we require a rewrite in order to run it. That rewrite is not done by the Review staff but by the original writer.
n While our regular word limit for letters is 350 words, our limit for political letters is 250 words. Why the difference? By their very nature, Lake Oswegans like to share their opinions. This is a good thing. But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Our record leading up to an election in the past six years was 54 opinion pieces in a single edition of the Review. In order to accommodate the volume we receive, we are forced to restrict the amount of words people can write.
n Newspapers have experienced a tremendous amount of change in recent years. For example, six years ago, 85 percent of the opinion pieces submitted to Review were done on typewriters and mailed to us via the U.S. mail. Today, close to 100 percent of all opinion pieces come via e-mail. Altogether, I personally get more than 2,000 e-mails a week. Like many of us, I'm here to tell you that there is a down side to this plethora of electronic communications: I now have to sort through all of these e-mails, including the worthwhile and the Spam, the trash, the irrelevant and the bizarre. It's a time-consuming process.
n Deadline continues to be at 5 p.m. Monday for opinion pieces. Why is there a deadline? Well, until we lock in on how many letters and citizen's views we are running, it's difficult to calculate how much space we have available for other elements of the newspaper. We cut new items off at the 5 p.m. Monday deadline and immediately work on putting all of them on pages. That gives us Tuesday and Wednesday morning to finish the rest of the newspaper.
n 'Letters that contain potential libel, other legal problems or that are in poor taste (name calling) will not be printed.' While this is obvious to us, some folks struggle to grasp the concept. Name calling can be a subjective thing … sometimes it's obvious, sometimes (especially in the case of a public figure) it's not.
n Keep in mind that the upcoming election is Tuesday, Nov. 6. Ballots will be mailed out Friday, Oct. 19. That means the last paper to get an opinion piece in before the election is Thursday, Nov. 1, which in turn means the deadline to get in that paper is 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29. And remember, 'Tone of the letters must be civil and letters with any type of negative or accusatory comment about a political candidate (or in this case, ballot measures) will not run in the paper in the week prior to an election.'
My hope is that this helps you understand some of the give-and-take that goes into our handling of the elements that readers submit to our Opinion pages. If you have questions or concerns, you are free to send us a letter to the editor.
Martin Forbes is the editor of the Lake Oswego Review.