Readers' responses help make our page

January 03, 1999

SOME of the liveliest reading in The Sun can be found in the letters to the editor.

That's partly because writers there frequently are driven by passion. They're upset by something they've seen in the newspaper and want to sound off about it.

The letters column that appears daily and the full-page Saturday Mailbox give readers a chance to talk back to Sun editors.

This year, we expanded the amount of space devoted to letters to get more readers' views in the paper. But even with the additional space, we are able to publish only a small percentage of the letters submitted.

At pivotal points in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, we have received nearly 1,000 letters a week. At other times, the volume of mail has been less than half that.

We try to ensure that letters we publish are a representative sample of those we receive. For example, if we get 100 letters on the subject of presidential impeachment -- with 60 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed -- we would try to reflect that by publishing six letters pro and four con. Thus, even if your letter isn't published, your opinion still counts. For issues not so narrowly defined, we try to offer a range of views.

The gray box that appears on the editorial page daily explains how to send letters -- by fax, e-mail or the U.S. Postal Service.

Each day, those responsible for letters to the editor sift through that day's mail (or click through e-mails), and select candidates for publication.

Some letters are collected for single-issue pages, such as our recent page that included reponses to our question about what qualities readers would like to see in the next Baltimore mayor. Our policy is to run letters addressed to the editor, not other people. Unfortunately, in the weeks leading to the execution of Tyrone X Gilliam, we received dozens of letters addressed to the governor.

Letters that are good candidates for publication are opinion-driven, stating a reader's point of view about items in The Sun and avoiding the use of arcane facts that are difficult to verify.

The best letters are succinct, thoughtful, and make clear reference to the articles that inspire the letter and have an unambiguous argument. Well-written letters have an advantage.

Handwritten letters should be legible.

During the editing process, some of a writer's points may be cut because of space limits. But our mission is to keep each letter's essence intact.

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