The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
to the Editor
September 14, 2003
Readers of this page know that all letters to the editor, by convention, begin with the same salutation, "To the Editor," as if addressed to some faceless higher authority at The Times. In fact, the mountains of mail that we receive every day pile up on a very real editor's desk.
For readers who wonder how the process unfolds, this is an attempt to demystify things a bit. Every day at least 1,000 submissions, and often far more, pour in to the letters office by e-mail, fax or postal mail. We print an average of 15 letters a day. That means the competition is intense, to say the least. Many, many worthy letters never see print, and those that do cannot reflect all the topics of interest to readers.
What qualifies as a publishable letter to the editor? The answer is necessarily highly subjective. We are looking for a national (and often international) conversation about the issues of the day big and not so big as well as fresh, bright writing that stands out through its own charm. Timeliness is a must; brevity will improve your chances; stylishness and wit will win my heart.
In times of great stress, the letters page has become a national town hall meeting of sorts. For months after Sept. 11, 2001, readers gave voice to their shock, horror, sadness and rage. They grieved for the dead, and then asked pointed questions about how the terrorist attacks could have happened. The page was a forum for dissecting the drawn-out presidential election of 2000, and for debating whether we should go to war in Iraq.
Contrary to the impression of some readers, the letters page, unlike the editorials with which we share a home, does not have a political coloration of its own. We are eager to print all points of view liberal, conservative and anything in between expressed according to the rules of civil discourse. You are free to agree or disagree with the opinions expressed in the editorials, columns and Op-Ed articles, or with the articles in the news columns. We seek robust debate and strive for balance.
The page is not a scientific survey of public opinion. So the variety of opinions expressed in a package of letters about one topic should not be read as poll results, but rather as a sampling of reader responses.
We welcome letters from all quarters, but especially from ordinary readers who have no titles after their names. Of course, we publish many writers speaking with authority in their areas of expertise, and letters from officeholders responding to criticism in these pages. We enjoy hearing from literary lights about what interests them Norman Mailer on Kosovo, Jane Smiley on the Bush administration, Roger Kahn on crying in baseball.
But concerned, informed readers have the pride of place here the thousands who write about what gets them worked up, or what moves them. And no subject is off-limits, within the bounds of good taste.
Many writers offer their insights into how we live our lives how we drive our S.U.V.'s, gab on our cellphones on our commuter trains, deal with e-mail spam and telemarketers calling during dinner. One couple, responding to a front-page article about Internet dating, took the time to write in from their honeymoon cruise to recount how they met through an online dating service. Many writers, including a 12-year-old whose letter we published, were exercised about an Op-Ed article that took jabs at the adults who read the Harry Potter books.
A few important ground rules: Letters should be kept to about 150 words. (Not enough space? Well, the Gettysburg Address was only about 250 words.) They should be exclusive to The Times and respond to an article that appeared in the newspaper in the last week. In fact, writing by the next day is a good idea. Like other sections of the newspaper, the letters page seeks to be timely, so even a very good letter that arrives three days later may get passed over.
We will try to reach you if your letter is selected, so we need your daytime and evening telephone numbers, as well as your address (we'll protect your privacy). Letters are subject to editing, as is anything that appears in a newspaper, but we send you the edited letters for your approval.
Our door is always open, so keep the cards and letters coming. But, please, hold off on the spam.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests