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Lively letters need few restrictions

I had an email this morning from a reader who wondered if I had ever considered putting a limitation on the number of words I will publish in a letter to the editor in Numismatic News.

It is a reasonable question. I know it is necessary for some publications. But every publication is unique. It has its own needs. Its readers have their own views.

So how did I reply?

Here it is:

“I believe in the importance of letters to the editor to keep NN alive and connected to the readership. Any restrictions placed on letter writing reduces the likelihood that anyone will write in. That said, I don’t believe in word limitations. Some people do ramble. Then someone else will write in and point that out. That is what brings the pages to life.

“I do insist on people identifying themselves. That pretty much eliminates rants. I will omit a name or address if people ask me to do so. Nothing libelous is published. I don’t run testimonials to dealers as that is simply advertising, but if someone wants to compliment how well run a show is, that is another story that strengthens the hobby.

“It all boils down to editorial judgment. If that is exercised well, readers hardly know it is there, and they get used to how to express themselves by how they see others do it.

“I publish virtually everything that comes in as a letter or a Viewpoint, so what you see is basically what I have gotten.

“I have occasionally gotten a letter where the writer has messed up the facts so badly that it either needs to be changed or not run. One writer wrote about cent mintages and used trillions instead of billions. I ran the letter and corrected the mistake. He noticed and emailed me to ask why I changed it. When I replied, he was grateful. People are nice if they figure that they get a respectful hearing from the editor.”

That was my reply to this morning’s e-mail and it is my philosophy on letters.

There are exceptions, of course, but as an English teacher I had many years ago was fond of saying, it is the exceptions that prove the rules.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."