Why I Still Love Letters to the Editor
A few months ago, I wrote a column about how much I enjoy reading the obituaries section of the daily newspaper and how I’ve learned about many unique and interesting individuals from reading about their lives after they have died.
However, the obituaries section is not my favorite section of the newspaper.
Actually, it’s the letters to the editor.
Whenever I receive my printed copy of The Jewish Link, the first section I turn to (after a quick perusal of the front page) is the letters to the editor.
I think for any publication that one enjoys reading, it’s natural to want to see what other readers want to say about a prior article that has been published in the paper.
In addition, as a regular columnist for The Jewish Link, I now have a personal stake in the letters to the editor section, as occasionally the newspaper will print a letter from a reader who either liked my column or found fault with it. So far, I’ve only written one column that created ire among some readers; almost all of my other columns have been parve enough not to generate any letters, with a couple of them that triggered a complimentary letter or two.
Before I started writing for The Jewish Link, I was an inveterate letter writer. For years I subscribed to The Jewish Week and The Forward (both of which no longer distribute a print publication), and would often write letters to the editor of each publication about articles they had published.
My track record was excellent, as over the years I had a couple of dozen letters published in the two newspapers.
The Jewish Week often was unfairly criticized for being an anti-Orthodox newspaper, and many of my letters defended the publication and its editor against the negative comments it regularly received from Orthodox readers.
Conversely, The Forward was blatantly anti-Orthodox, and most of my letters pointed out the bias that many of its articles and editorials had against the observant community.
Whenever a letter to the editor of mine was published, I would carefully clip out the article and place it in a notebook I reserved for my letters. The notebook still sits on my bookshelf, although I have not looked at it in years.
I wish I could say that I’ve had the same success with letters that I’ve written to The New York Times. Unfortunately, I’ve never cracked through that publication. And it’s not because of a lack of trying. I’ve probably written more than a dozen letters to the editor of The Times, but nothing I’ve submitted has been worthy of publication – at least in the eyes of its editorial staff. I would like to think that it’s because I don’t have the credentials after my name (The Times tends to publish letters from more well-known individuals), and not because of the quality of my writing.
What makes for a good letter to the editor? Here are a few rules that I try to follow.
First, a letter to the editor should be relatively short – 250-500 words is the perfect length.
Second, it should focus on one or two points. If you are writing a complimentary letter, try to add something new that the writer might have missed or elaborate on something he or she said. Don’t regurgitate what has already been written.
If you are writing a letter that is critical of an article, editorial, or op-ed piece, again focus on one or two points where you feel the writer may have missed the mark.
And don’t feel insulted if a letter ends up not getting published. Part of the fun of writing a letter to the editor is not just getting it published; it can still be cathartic, even if it never sees the printed page.
Finally, consider contacting the author of a column directly with your comments through an online medium. Most authors are extremely accessible, either through email or social media, and would welcome hearing your comments. I have developed several personal friendships that have started through an email I had sent to the author about an article I read.
I wonder if this column will generate any letters to the editor!