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Loads of letters

Election letter deadline is Oct. 25

You might not know this if the Enterprise is the only newspaper you read, but there are papers all over this nation that don’t get many letters to the editor.

Whether it’s due to politeness or apathy or disconnectedness, that’s a form of social distancing that does no good for anyone.

Think about that as you read through all the letters on today’s Opinion page, plus those that spill over to fill up pages A7 and A10. Think about all the letters you’ve read in this paper in the last few months, both for the upcoming election and also for the Saranac Lake village election in September.

Think about how much thought and heart and hard work each writer put into each letter — each one a real person trying to get a message to you.

You may or may not like the letters. But even if you disagree with most of them, you should feel good that you live in a place where people share what they think, not by shouting or rioting but in a safe and civil forum.

For us as a people to govern ourselves, we need a realistic sense of what our neighbors believe. It is when we realize and take into account the scope of various American opinions that we, and the people we elect, can start working out public policies that will, ultimately, work.

So pat yourself on the back for being part of an engaged community of readers. You may not be able to see the benefit of that, but it is there in the order and peace that quietly underlie our society — although we take it for granted.

The purpose of this editorial, however, is not only to thank you; it is also to set a deadline.

We have been getting so many letters in the run-up to this election that it usually takes a few days to get each one in the paper. Therefore, if you want your letter published before Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, we need to have it in hand by noon on Sunday, Oct. 25.

If we have your letter by then, and if it meets our guidelines published every day on the Opinion page, then we promise we will publish it before Election Day.

Note that we said “before Election Day.” We will continue our tradition of not publishing election related letters on Election Day itself.

As for those guidelines, to save you the trouble of looking for them, here are the main ones. The length limit is 500 words, although we suggest that a shorter letter is often more memorable and is also easier for us to publish sooner. Candidate endorsements should be in the form of letters, not longer Guest Commentary essays.

As the old saying goes, you are entitled to your own opinions but not to your own facts. We fact-check letters, but because the editor has many other things to do, he doesn’t always have time to do a massive amount of research on behalf of a letter writer who neglected to do so. Therefore, the burden is on the letter writer to back up claims. This especially applies when citing statistics or making accusations. We cannot afford to have provable falsehoods published in the Enterprise. We give a lot of leeway to personal interpretation or when things are debatable, but some facts are not debatable, and we cannot risk exposure to libel lawsuits. As journalists, our number-one commitment is to the truth.

Our guidelines did not come from some academic journalism playbook. They developed here over time in response to what you readers told us you want in your newspaper — what you think is fair.

By the way, if you think there are more letters in the Enterprise this year than there used to be, you’re right. We have published 863 letters and Guest Commentaries so far this year — not including syndicated columnists (George Will, Leonard Pitts, etc.) and not including our own columnists. That’s an average of almost 3.6 in each of the 243 issues we’ve published so far this year.

That is already more than we published in any whole year going back to 2013, the last one we have easily accessible records for — and we still have two-and-a-half months to go in 2020. Those numbers range from a previous high of 860 (2.8 per issue) in 2013 to a low of 627 (2 per issue) in 2016 — strange to have the low come in a presidential election year.

That’s a lot for any daily newspaper, but especially for one of the smallest in the state, perhaps the nation, in terms of the number of people it serves.

So keep sending in those letters, not just on the election but on whatever topic you want to share. Keep in mind that this is a service the Enterprise provides for free. It is so popular that the business person in us can’t help but think, if we were to charge a small amount per letter, we might be able to spare ourselves some painful belt-tightening — but that would also be a roadblock to people who can’t afford it. So we’ll keep it free, and you keep it flowing. Let’s show the world that this is a place where people lean in and are serious about open communication and informed democracy.

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