But as with all things, there are guidelines which I feel should be reviewed as we journey deeper into the election year. People who read your op/ed pieces are, for many reasons, interested in public opinions. They may be thinking about throwing their hat into the political arena, for example. Presenting your ideas to them in a coherent and intelligent manner helps reach an influential and intelligent audience.
Although sending a letter to a newspaper is a time-honored way of getting your voice heard, too frequently, writers get rejected for not following simple rules set down by the First Amendment, the state’s libel laws and the newspaper itself.
This is not the last word on the First Amendment, but some common sense advice on how to write a printable letter in the land of aloha:
No attacking private citizens. For example, it’s not okay to say that John Doe at 45 Pilau Street runs a gambling parlor in his garage (even if he does).
No attacking small businesses. And it’s also not okay to claim that there is a rat’s tail in your takeout food from John Doe’s Barbecue Palace (even if there was).
But, public officials are open to criticism—to a point. It is okay to say the councilman used poor judgment regarding the fast-food bill. It is not okay to call him disparaging names because you don’t agree with him. Do not use crude or insulting language (even in an election year).
And in fairness to all who submit letters, do not exceed our recommended word count. Letters are 200 words or less; commentaries are 400 or less. So be specific, concise and to the point.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “letter” or “commentary” typed in the subject line. But be aware that if you write a letter and enter the public forum, others can question or criticize your opinions.
Readers have no constitutional right to have a letter published in a newspaper. What’s printed is at the discretion of the editor. And no, I don’t print only letters that I like. I regularly print letters with which I don’t agree at all. For every comment I receive, I must assume there are more readers who feel the same way.
This is your newspaper, and I respect your right to be heard, whether or not I share your opinion.