A Letter on Letters

Your letters are the high point of my week. Of course praise is ice cream after dinner. Of that I had a full serving in W.R. Kraus’ words from Edgewater:

We very much enjoy your paper. Since we moved here in 2004, it has helped us understand the area we live in; manage our garden; and find lots of fun things to do. It also has the added benefit of not making me want to jump off the roof after reading the news!

Dessert is good, but I’ve never been one to skip dinner, so I happily dig into your opinion letters, as well. Last week, you’ll remember, Michael Siewertsen of Huntingtown gave us Heck 101 for praising wind power while lamenting huge transmission poles. His words gave me food for thought that I’m still digesting.

At the same time, I equally relish Frank Fox’s letter this week rejoicing that Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant is now unlikely to add a third reactor and advocating efficient use of the energy we now produce plus “smart investments in clean sources of energy like wind and solar.”

Meanwhile, I’m still hoping for a letter from a wind proponent — I know you’re out there — to take on Siewertsen point by point. 

Like the politician who famously said I don’t mind what you call me — so long as you spell my name right, I don’t mind what you think of what we’ve written.

Respected journalist and old friend Jack Sherwood — most recently retired from Soundings — wrote this week with a complaint about my editing of intern Aries Matheos’ story on Renaissance Festival jouster Sir Barchan, who appeared on the cover of the paper of October 14.

Jack’s absolutely right, as every editor would agree, on his lesson. But is he right on its application? 

I’d like your opinion.

You are to be saluted for using interns, Jack wrote. But …

Rule Number One in a feature story is to provide the reader with bright first and final paragraphs; the first graph to lure the reader into reading the story and the final paragraph to lure the reader back to the beginning and read the story again. Intern Aries Matheos missed on both counts in her learning lesson.

Her first paragraph: “A piece of armor may fly into the crowd. If this happens, please do not be harmed,” said Sir Barchan of the Joust. 

My question: Did she fail to lure you into the story?

She must have lured Jack in, as he read long enough to complain about her final paragraph:

 Final Paragraph: Who won the damn joust?

I’d say, Jack, the joust wasn’t the point of the story. The jouster was. Anyway, he wasn’t fighting that day.

Dear reader, your answer will, or will not, exonerate me from Jack’s final charge: Negligence. To wit:

Rule Number Two: An editor must always proof an intern’s copy.

Who’s right and who’s wrong? What’s your ruling? Write to [email protected]

Lost Letters

Another point about letters: We want them on subjects we write about. 

That standard means I reject lots of letters.

The hardest ones to refuse are letters of thanks from organizations and sometimes individuals thanking their sponsors or donors. It’s not that I dismiss the good works they’ve achieved; the problem is that such letters often have nothing to do with the dialogue that goes on in our pages. (On the other hand, good cause efforts often turn into stories, especially when you tell us about them in advance.)

Form and blanket letters almost never appear on our pages. Many of those arrive from people around the country, sometimes the world, with fanatical opinions they broadcast far and wide in hope that they take root somewhere.

Also banned are letters of political endorsement or damnation. Like those letter writers, we take candidates and their messages seriously. But choice in religion and politics is such a personal matter that none of us has a better opinion than the other. On the other hand, a letter telling us we were wrong or right in how we covered a candidate would likely appear — unless it was scurrilous.

Scurrilous is another category of letter you might as well not send. Unless you write them funny. I’m always hungry for a good laugh.