Dear Reader:

I’ve been reminded this week that our editorial policies can be difficult for you to find online. In print, we occasionally publish the guidelines for letters to the editor and how to submit one. We’re working to fix that online so that you’ll see more about our guidelines for submissions when you reach this section at Columbiamissourian.com/Opinion.

In the meantime, it seems like it’s worth an explanation of what we are looking for in our reader views.

As Executive Editor Ruby Bailey put it, we might not publish a letter “that expresses the same or similar views of others we have run recently and does not advance the topic.” So, no form letters.

We also attempt to vary the voices you’re hearing from so that one or two people don’t get a monopoly on letters to the editor. We limit submissions to two per month. And, publishing one letter from a reader doesn’t guarantee the publication of others by the same author.

Our policy states that letters to the editor should be 250 words, though we do accept pieces up to 300 words sometimes. Guest commentaries are longer pieces, up to 700 words, and are often akin to the editorial columns we regularly publish.

There’s often some talk about censorship and tamping someone’s First Amendment freedoms when we reject a letter or submission that doesn’t meet our standards. As a journalist, those claims make me bristle.

There’s a distinction between the freedom of speech that the Constitution affords, which prohibits the government from restricting what you say, and the Missourian applying its editorial standards. There isn’t a “constitutional right” to speak on the pages of any newspaper or media outlet. As Opinion editor, I have to uphold editorial standards and can’t let writers get away with outlandish, unfounded claims.

So, we adhere to journalistic standards that letters be factual and coherent and don’t violate our ethical standards, such as making personal attacks against another person. We’ll fact check assertions made in letters to the editor or guest commentaries as warranted. Sometimes that requires inserting an editor’s note with further explanation.

I hope you’ll continue to share your ideas, opinions and stories with me as Opinion editor, but more importantly with our community of readers.

If you have any questions, please contact me at johnstonlc@missouri.edu or by phone at 882-6870.


About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

Laura Johnston is Opinion editor at the Missourian and an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.

  • News editor at the interactive copy desk and an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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