By Max Jones
TERRE HAUTE — Survey after survey of newspaper readers tell us that letters to the editor are among the most read and most enjoyed content we offer. While obituaries routinely top the list of most-read items, letters are always near the top.
Even without research of that kind, it would be obvious to those of us who work to produce newspapers in print and online that reader submissions offering opinions on issues of the day, comments about hot community topics, or telling personal stories about everyday life, are universally valued by our large and diverse audience.
How would we know that? Personal feedback from readers fuels the notion, of course. But the real testament to the popularity of reader commentary is the constant volume of letters coming in. Whenever it seems the number of submitted letters can’t possibly go higher, it does.
We’ve had strong years before, but 2008 ranks among the best, at least since we’ve been tracking such things. As editorial page editor back in the early ’90s, I started logging submitted letters. (That’s when all letters sent were either typed, faxed or hand-written rather than e-mailed — today’s vastly preferred submission method). The number of letters I logged 10 to 15 years ago hovered between 1,200 and 1,400. Most of those, which consisted of letters that met our basic standards and requirements, saw print.
But 2008 was a banner year, with 1,746 letters logged (1,300 e-mailed, plus 446 submitted in other ways). Election years, especially when presidents are on the ballot, tend to generate more letters. But I’ve also found that years with Terre Haute mayoral elections boost the letters volume. Such was the case in 2007, when more than 1,650 letters were logged.
I don’t have an accurate count on the number of letters actually published in our print edition last year. It would have to number well over 1,400. And all of our letters contain the author’s real name. Anonymous letters, or pen names, are not allowed. Readers appreciate that.
We have been trying to get writers to submit shorter letters, which are advantageous to all. Shorter letters are more apt to be read completely, and they result in more space for more letters. We seem to be succeeding, since we haven’t allotted any more space to letters, yet are publishing more of them.
The quality of letters continues to be excellent. I have also noticed an increase in new letter writers. All this points to our letters columns being a must-read feature far into the future.
Keep up the good work, and keep those letters coming in.
I I I
While most of our efforts are still focused on the Tribune-Star’s print edition, we are devoting an increasing amount of resources to our online edition, www.tribstar.com. That is a trend that will continue.
In some cases, Web content is exclusive to the online edition. One such Web-only feature is Sports Editor Todd Golden’s “Down in the Valley” blog, which can be accessed by clicking first on a Sports link from the main page, then scrolling down to the “Back in Blue” logo on the right side of your computer screen.
Todd covers Indiana State University men’s basketball and uses his blog to write in real time about the Sycamores’ exploits. Many fans of ISU sports already know about Todd’s blog and enjoy interacting with him.
Among the content readers can find are in-game comments. Todd writes instant analysis while the games are going on and keeps readers up to date on the game’s progress. The blog is fun reading and worth a visit from Sycamores fans.
More online features such as Todd’s blog will be appearing in coming months. This type of content delivery is definitely the trend of the future.
Jones can be reached at (812) 231-4336, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org