We at Hamilton Community News love receiving letters, email messages and comments on our website from readers regarding the stories that we do. That’s why we reserve a page each week to publish the thoughts and concerns of the community in its own words.
However, not all letters are created equal and I often get people asking me why their letters weren’t used. To help clear the confusion here are 11 tips that will increase your chances of being published and policies that all writers must adhere to if they want to see their work in print.
• Keep it short — We don’t have a lot of space for letters, so if yours is concise, it’s much more likely to get picked up. On average a good letter should be about 200 words.
• Be local — Local news is our passion and while we do write stories about provincial or national issues the more locally focused your letter is the greater chance it will be printed.
• Attack the ideas, not the thinker — Our letters page is meant to be a place where readers can engage in intelligent discussions and debates about things that matter, and not a public forum for school yard taunts and jeers.
• Be timely — We might be weekly papers, but if you just now have a thought about a story we ran three months ago that you need to share, do it via our website.
• Don’t send in form letters — As part of their awareness/action campaigns groups often encourage their supporters to send prewritten letters to the newspapers. We aren’t interested in what some organization thinks, we want to know what you think.
• Full name, address and phone number — We will not print any letter without the full name (initials are not acceptable), address and phone number of the writer. Address and phone number will not be published, but we need them for verification purposes and in case we have any questions for you.
• Proofread and spell check — Before you hit send, take a moment and read over your submission. You’d be surprised how often people send in letters with incomplete thoughts or simple spelling errors.
• Show the other side — If a column, editorial or other letters all agree with one point of view, intelligently presenting the opposite way of thinking will increase your chances of getting published.
• Debates don’t go on forever — After a few weeks it’s time to move on to a different topic. If you have another point to make, you can do it on our website.
• Writers have no right to respond — If someone criticizes an idea you put forward on our letters page you do not automatically get your reply to them published.
• We have the right to edit all letters — Changes for spelling and grammar should go without saying, but we can also edit for size, clarity and to conform with our policies or the laws of the land.
I look forward to reading what you come up with.
— Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News.