Editor's Notebook: Fall promises a fresh crop of campaign letters
Shorter days and cooler temperatures. Pumpkin-flavored beer. More cruise ships. Sweaters. The return of high school sports.
All these things tell us we've turned the corner from summer to fall.
At The Forecaster, there's one more thing that marks the change of seasons: the emergence of letters to the editor about local ballot issues or on behalf of local political candidates.
We're about six weeks from Election Day, Nov. 5, and this week we're publishing our first letter about an upcoming referendum, the so-called Waterfront Protection Ordinance in South Portland. With local elections ahead in several cities and towns throughout our four editions, there will undoubtedly be many more letters to come. Elections are fertile soil for letters.
Which is why it's worth reviewing our guidelines for letter writers.
First of all, like all letters to the editor, election letters must be signed and include the writer's home address, and a telephone number where the writer can be reached. They must also adhere to our usual standards of civility and propriety.
But election letters must be concise: no more than 150 words, compared with the 250-word limit we impose on other letters to the editor. Why? Because we run every letter that meets our guidelines, and there's a spike in volume during campaign season. (Also, to be honest, very few letter writers say anything about their favorite candidates that hasn't already been said, or won't be said again, by someone else. But we value our readers' opinions, and respect their contributions, so we still run every one of them.)
Although the weekly deadline for all letters is noon each Monday, writers of election letters have another deadline to keep in mind: Monday, Oct. 21. That's the last day to submit election letters, for publication in our editions of Oct. 23-25. We will not publish election letters in our editions of Oct. 30-Nov. 1, the week immediately preceding Election Day.
Why? It's a safety net. Although letters to the editor are expressions of opinion, they sometimes include factual errors. If we publish these letters in the week before the election, there would be no chance for corrections before Election Day, or for candidates to respond to last-moment accusations and inaccuracies. So we reserve the week before the election for only those responses.
Letters must also be submitted directly by the letter writers. These days, even candidates in uncontested races like to organize letter-writing campaigns, and that's fine. But we will not publish letters forwarded by a campaign or candidate, or submitted by anyone other than the writer.
Fall is the growing season for letters to the editor, and local elections are the fertilizer. Our guidelines are designed to ensure a healthy crop; you can always find them online on the Contact page at theforecaster.net.
And keep in mind that hand-written or typed letters, delivered personally or via the U.S. Postal Service, are less likely to be published because they require time-consuming transcription (by yours truly); the most efficient way to deliver your letter is via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.