Editing your letters to the editor
I thought I had a reasonable rapport with a frequent letter writer. That is, until he sent me a recent letter by email and I did a little polishing and sent him the edited version.
"I couldn't spot your tweaks. Fortunately, they appear not to have detracted from the core message. As far as I'm concerned, your job is to maintain word limits and correct typos. The core message of the writer must be kept intact if this is to be a true representation of community opinion (as represented by those who bother writing)."
I replied: "Thanks for reminding me what my 'job' is."
If that response sounds like I was a little put off, well, I was.
Our letters policy, printed on each day's Gazette Opinion page, explains that letters "may be edited for brevity, clarity, good taste and libel."
I try hard to keep each writer's message intact so it's a "true representation of community opinion." Just what that work entails, however, can vary widely from writer to writer.
Sometimes I'll get a letter of 300 or 400 words. When I inform the writer that our limit is 250, the person might urge me to trim it to 250. Sorry, I'm not going there. Sometimes I will trim a dozen words or more to help a writer who simply can't reduce a letter to 250. But if the letter is 300 words or longer, trimming it to 250 will take too much time and risks removing material the writer might want retained. At some point, it also ceases to be the person's letter.
I try to make sure no facts are in error, but sometimes they slip by us as workload mounts and minutes grow slim. I use spell-checker and try to clean up poor grammar. That, too, varies widely. Some letters are atrocious. I don't imagine the writers want to look illiterate but still desire to get their points across. So I clean these up as well as I can, treating all with care.
If you send your letters by email and I do a fair amount of work on them, I can quickly email them back and make sure you're comfortable with the changes.
Almost every week, I get a "thank you" from some writer who appreciates the time and attention I take to improving a letter. I can't recall ever offending a writer by changing something that altered the "core message." That's never my intent. In fact, it would be unethical.