GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 4, 2013

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? Letter priorities

Why Did My Newspaper Do That?
Ray Lamont

---- — With the Marathon terrorist bombings, the dire new regulatory threats to Gloucester’s and New England’s fisheries, the announced closing of St. Ann School — and then a U.S. Senate election, Monday’s coming Essex Town Meeting and Rockport’s town elections, which loom on Tuesday – the last three weeks have been among the busiest and, well, craziest, I can remember in terms of local news coverage.

Yet those stories — especially, in their own way, the elections and Monday’s Essex meeting — have made it a busy stretch for another popular component of the Times as well: our letters to the editor.

As you can see, letters about Rockport’s election dominate today’s Opinion page, just as letters touting candidates in this past Tuesday’s U.S. Senate primaries headed up the page leading into that voting last week and into the weekend. I can already tell you there are some good and interesting letters and columns pending in the days ahead next week — letters that, in some cases, have been pushed back and on hold for several days. And yes, we have gotten calls from letter writers, asking why their letters have not run — some even suggesting that we won’t run them because we might disagree with their content.

That is certainly not the case. I can also proudly tell you that, as far as newspapers go, we run a far greater percentage of the letters we receive – an estimated 85 percent. And many of them, as you’ve likely seen, certainly disagree with and are critical of our coverage and especially our editorial stands.

But setting priorities when it comes to deciding which letters run on which day is often another story. And while the adage of first-come, first-served is a staple of many businesses, the news business – especially its letters section — sure isn’t one of them.

That might not seem fair, and at times, I admit, it probably isn’t. Other letters in the works are certainly important, too. And you may well wonder, why would they and their writers essentially wait in line while others, submitted later, have already appeared.

So, why would your community’s newspaper do that?

Because while timing can be everything in terms of news coverage and letters alike, the defining factor in prioritizing letters isn’t the order in which they’re received, it’s the true urgency and timing of the issues they address.

Over the last few days — and especially today — you’ve seen letters that have just arrived perhaps 24 hours in advance of their being printed. Yet, in crafting today’s page, for example – we’ve included as many letters as we could fit regarding the Rockport election. That’s because we try not to include any letters about local elections on either the day before Election Day or the day of it, out of fairness to candidates on any and all sides, who would not have time to respond. And that left today as the last viable day for many of these letters to run. Any that haven’t, we hope to put online over the weekend at gloucestertimes.com.

There are other factors that can move as letter to the forefront, ahead of others. Those include whether they provide an immediate answer of response to another letter, or in reaction to a news story that has just broken — in this week’s case, the sudden announcement of the June closing of St. Ann School.

And others can tout an important meeting or project that is coming up, even if we have not done a story about it. Again, the timing of the topic the letter addresses is the more determining factor than the date the letter zoomed in via email, or came across our desks in our Whittemore Street newsroom.

That’s to make sure our letters and Opinion page, like our local news coverage, is timely and gives you the news and views you need to know and evaluate — when you need to do so.

As always, let me know what you think.

Questions? Comments? Is there a topic you’d like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3432, or via email at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.