Opinion Columns & Blogs

Letters to the editor are important – keep them coming

How to submit your letter to the editor to The Modesto Bee

A video detailing how to write a letter to the editor to The Modesto Bee.
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A video detailing how to write a letter to the editor to The Modesto Bee.

Letters to the editor are an important part of our opinions page here at The Modesto Bee.

I want to say “an indispensable part,” but that wouldn’t quite be true. If you’re a regular reader, you know that letters no longer appear each and every day. You don’t see a letters column in today’s paper, for instance.

The reason is simple: We don’t receive enough letters to fill the space on a daily basis. So when we have some, we publish them — it averages two or three times a week. And when we don’t have enough, we choose something else for the op-ed page, usually commentary from one of community columnists, or from another newspaper, the wires or a similar source.

Fewer letters is not something unique to the Modesto area. The Sacramento Bee — a much larger sister paper — runs letters to the editor only on Thursdays and Sundays.

Is this a problem? Not a huge one; like I said, there is plenty of other copy to fill the space. But I like to think of letters to the editor as an open forum, a place where everyone — regardless of upbringing or education or occupation or anything else — can speak and be heard. And that makes it important to many of us.

It’s a place where people often blow off steam about whatever is bothering them. Many others find praise for someone or something. Others suggest new ideas or perspective, or ways to improve something in society; such calls to action might be my personal favorite.

Some letters are so endearing, or so antagonizing, that other readers feel prompted to respond — with another letter to the editor, of course.

Think of letters to the editor as a community blog, or something akin to social media, but with the benefit of a trained screener. All letters are subject to editing tweaks, to make sure they’re readable and conform to space needs.

“It is fascinating to see what ordinary people are thinking,” wrote a Modesto woman, referring to letters to the editor, in a personal letter to Bee higher-ups. “If you truly want local stuff, you can’t get more local than letters to the editor by local subscribers.” She is a regular and valued letter writer, and expressed frustration at not seeing letters published every day. Because others also have inquired, I decided to write this explainer.

I’m not expecting this column to generate a flood of new letters. But if you have something to share, by all means, consider saying it in a letter to the editor. Thousands will read it, and some may even respond.

The rules are straightforward: keep it under 200 words, and include your name, address and phone number so we can verify you’re a real person. It’s super easy to use our online template: https://www.modbee.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/submit-letter/. Just as good is emailing letters@modbee.com, or you can mail it to us at 948 11th St., Suite 300, Modesto, CA 95354.

If you go to modbee.com and click on this story, there also are video instructions.

A majority of submissions appear both in the newspaper and our online product at modbee.com. Exceptions:

  • During election season, things really heat up and we actually receive more letters than we have space to print. Those that don’t make it in print appear online, however.
  • If you write more than once a month, the second one probably won’t make the cut.
  • If a political camp overdoes it by having dozens of supporters flood us with letters, they may not all appear in the newspaper.

To the last point, loyal readers may have noticed the legion of letters praising U.S. Rep. Josh Harder in a steady flow that has not slowed much since he was elected in November. We ran most of them over a period of months, but recently the number simply got to be too much. No one is allowed to hijack the opinions page.

It’s not fair or wise to cut off any politician’s supporters entirely, so those letters will continue to appear online. Most won’t appear in print, however, except once in a while. We’ll allow more as it gets closer to the March Primary.

We hope you enjoy the give-and-take in our letters to the editor, and we appreciate those of you who take the time to contribute. Happy reading.

Garth Stapley is The Modesto Bee’s Opinions page editor. Before this assignment, he worked 25 years as a Bee reporter, covering local government agencies and the high-profile murder case of Scott and Laci Peterson.
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