What you need to know:
- Editors ensure that the letters chosen for publication are free of libel and are fair and objective. They must also be in good taste and not seditious.
- The letters should strictly follow the rules of grammar, and are even better if the writer spices them up with idioms or other figures of speech.
Letters-to-the-editor is a means of reader participation in journalism. It provides citizens with a significant forum for public debate and ensures the voice of the people is heard. It enables readers to exchange information, ideas and opinions.
However, some readers complain that their letters have not been published or have been “butchered”.
So, I asked Khakhudu Agunda, NMG Consulting Editor (Opinions), why some letters are rejected, shortened or rewritten.
He wrote: “Any newspaper worth its salt values feedback and direct interaction with its readers. The Letters to the Editor page provides this vital forum.
It’s a key section of the newspaper and it’s often handled by a senior editor to ensure that the writers’ views are not only well edited but are also in good taste and not libellous or malicious.
This is why the editor has the discretion to publish, shorten or rewrite letters, but without distorting the message intended by the author. This is a tricky job that must be handled carefully as the letter carries the writer’s name and views.
However, that letter, like anything else published in the paper, including advertisements, news and opinions, can attract civil or criminal litigation.
People can sue for defamation and it’s the paper that will be held directly liable, having published the letter.
Editors ensure that the letters chosen for publication are free of libel and are fair and objective. They must also be in good taste and not seditious.
To get a letter published, one should pick a subject that is topical. Many letter writers will be commenting on news, events or developments in their communities or society. We are in the business of news and, therefore, letters should reflect what is happening at that time.
A writer who demonstrates flair and a deep knowledge of what he or she is writing about is likely to get published. The letter should not be too long and verbose.
If you are aiming at the big slot on the page, try about 500 words; for the other slots, about 100-300 words. The editor will, of course, shorten them to fit into the space.
The letters should strictly follow the rules of grammar, and are even better if the writer spices them up with idioms or other figures of speech.
Remember, the newspaper is not a textbook. Don’t copy and paste stuff from books or professional magazines.
However, you can quote and paraphrase these and, remember, like any other piece of writing in the newspaper, you must attribute and acknowledge the original writer.
It’s important that you give your real name, address, email and telephone number, to confirm that we are dealing with a credible person. We can also call you back if we feel that your letter can be upgraded.
Once bitten by the bug of the Letter to the Editor writer, many people get hooked and could transition into journalism or get bigger slots such as weekly columns.
The late Prof Calestous Juma, who was a science primary schoolteacher in Mombasa in the 1980s, gained recognition for his letters in the Nation and later worked for the UN in Nairobi before going to university in the United Kingdom.
Mungai Kihanya and Chris Hart also started out by writing letters to the editor before getting weekly columns.”
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Brian Wanyangu has asked if NMG pays for contributions. Head of Content Peter Munaita says they do not pay for unsolicited articles.
“We also don’t pay for information given as leads to a story. However, when we commission a member of the public to do an article for us by virtue of their expertise we compensate them as agreed mutually,” Mr Munaita says.
The key word here is “unsolicited”, which, in this context, means “not asked for”. But if you are a potential contributor, do not let this make you feel unwanted.
Next week, I will show you how to turn your “unsolicited articles” into “wanted articles”.
Send your complaints to [email protected] Call or text 0721 989 264