For a while, it was my privilege at the Star-Telegram to serve as backup editor for Jim Peipert who edited Letters to the Editor. That role tends to a vitally important forum of thought from readers and a feature that draws high readership because so many readers want to know what's on the minds of other readers.
(Jim is retired now and joyfully pursuing his passion for serious long-distance bicycling. You can read his blog at http://jimsbikeblog.wordpress.com.)
The role also exposes an editor to passionate readers who are trying and competing to get their voices heard. Success doesn't come easily. Hundreds of letters come in. Only the best are published. Those are letters that are credible in their facts and tone, compelling in their angle and timely.
Those who pursue writing letters to the editor will find great guidance in an article David Margolick wrote for The Nation about one of the greatest letter writers in New York Times history -- a San Francisco gentleman, Cy Shain, who died not long ago at age 88.
As Margolick writes:
"Shain's letters ... were perfect Times material, which is to say, reasonable. When he raised the issue of the newly installed George W. Bush's intellect and work habits, he did so gently. When he denounced the rush to war in Iraq, his tone was measured. His harshest adjectives were 'sobering' or 'bone-chilling' or 'downright frightening.' And while Avakian was either blunt or discursive, Shain mastered the Times formula: invariably three sentences, or thoughts, first introducing, then elaborating upon, then concluding, an idea. Though he made his points, it was always with a jab rather than a roundhouse. Shain's letters had the efficiency of haiku and the elegance of sonnets."
I'd encourage those of you who wish to write letters to the editor to read Margolick's article. Then pound out a letter and send it, knowing that your local newspaper welcomes your opinion and will gladly share it if it's credible and sharp like Shain's and sometimes if it isn't but can be polished enough with a bit of editing. Go for it.
If your aim is the Star-Telegram letters package, e-mail your letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your voice is important.