Letters To The Editor 101 Class Greatly Needed

Western Ag Vignettes

I am called names, praised and left wondering.

Published on: February 5, 2013

I love it when readers write in. I don't care they want to call me dirty names or say I know nothing about agriculture. That's because when I get letters to the editor I realize two things: people are reading us, and they think enough of us to comment on what we do.

Now, lots of letters come in saying nice things about us, and that makes me proud.

We publish every one of these, positive and negative, and sometimes respond in a little paragraph of our own when they take on an individual writer. I feel it is only fair if they call Thad Box fouls, that he has a chance for a short response sometimes.

Often, we have to clean up some bad language, and that doesn't dilute the letter intent, because we're careful to keep the tone and intensity intact.

But where I do have a problem is with letters which ramble around and do not seem to have a point or issue that is clearly addressed.  I get these occasionally and never know what to do with them. I usually let another editor read these letters to see if I am missing something hidden within.

It seems that these so-called "oddity letters" are from people who may have difficulty expressing themselves clearly. In fact, the letters are usually quite long and drift from one thought to another, using figures and facts that are not substantiated, and which might confuse our other readers into thinking the comments by the writer are factual.

But in all cases I think there is something important the writer wants to say and just isn't hitting the target.

My experience is that when I chat with these writers, they usually are as ambiguous about their intent as they were in the letter, and   often get nowhere in trying to eke out a usable letter to the editor.

Perhaps local high schools should offer a 101 course in writing letters to editors so people have a format that will keep them on target

I would like to teach it.

All things considered, we indeed have a good day if we get a letters commenting on our endeavors, or perhaps suggesting topics we might cover in future issues. I cannot say with enough emphasis that these letters are vital to keeping us on course.

They also are helpful to our various writers who get very few such letters. I mentioned Box because he writes perhaps some of the most controversial columns in our magazine, words which stir heated responses, as well as spur fans to say they like what he says.

I don't expect every reader to agree with what our columnists say, and in fact I often am opposed to some of their conclusions. Nevertheless, I like the spirit of controversy which they sometimes trigger, and will continue to run them to offer thinking out of the box and maybe over the top.