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Literature in a Hurry: Welcoming new voices during the election season

Voting for the people who will represent us at the local, state and federal level is one of a citizen’s most important civic functions. I’m proud to live in a state that makes voting easy for everyone, and proud to work in an industry that tries to help citizens make informed choices at the ballot box.

This is my second opportunity to manage an opinion page during an election season. Two years ago, freshly hired as editor of the Morris Sun Tribune, I was flying a bit by the seat of my pants. I knew generally what I wanted to accomplish with our opinion page but, having never managed one before, I didn’t anticipate how many questions would come up each week as I tried to sift through the number of letters and opinion pieces we received. I think we did well, but there is always space to improve.

To prepare for this year’s election, I’ve been collecting think pieces by other journalism professionals that offer advice on how to cover specific races and, relevant to this column, how to manage letters to the editor.

The most helpful pieces was one by Jim Pumarlo, and former newspaper editor who now works as director of communications at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. He’s also a member of the Journalism Education and Legislative committees of the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

He offered several suggestions for how to help the opinion page serve the electorate by offering “lively debate on the pros and cons of candidates and issues.” Many of his suggestions are reflected in our policy below.

Personally, I want to encourage writers to take time with letters and make sure they say something relevant and important. There is nothing more boring than a letter that simply says what a great person Candidate X will be in office. Similarly, letters that just bash a candidate or rely on personal attacks are largely unhelpful. I think our letters policy tries to address both of those concerns.

Writing a letter to the editor about the issues that are important to you is a great way to make your voice heard. I want as many new voices on this page as we have room to print before November.

This letters policy is very similar to what we’ve adopted in the past, but does include a small number of revisions that will, I hope, help the Sun Tribune’s opinion page to remain a place for lively debate about issues important to our community. Without further ado, here are the guidelines we will be adhering to regarding political letters to the editor:

  • No anonymous letters will be published. Letters delivered by hand or mail should be signed and include a printed name, address and phone number. Email letters must have a name, address and phone number for verification.
  • The submission deadline for the Sun Tribune's Saturday edition is noon on Thursday. This deadline will be strictly adhered to.
  • Political letters are limited to 200 words. Letters that exceed the limit will be edited or considered for publication as an opinion piece depending on the quality and depth of the argument and writing.
  • Letters that are merely personal endorsements or attempts at character assassination will not be published.
  • The Sun Tribune does not charge for letters to the editor. Letters run on a space available basis.
  • Because the Sun Tribune is one of the only places for debate on issues specific to our community, letters that address local candidates or local issues will be given priority.
  • Letters related to candidates running in Minnesota’s primary election will be published through Saturday, Aug. 2. Rebuttals, if warranted, may be published in the Saturday, Aug. 9 edition. The editor and publisher reserve discretion to decide if a rebuttal letter is warranted.

Pumarlo also suggested setting the ground rules for editorial page debate early and publish them often. In addition to printing these guidelines weekly, there will be copies of this policy available at the Morris Sun Tribune office and posted to our website. If you have any questions, please call me at (320) 589-2525 or e-mail me at