“Dear Editor, of all the liberal, Clinton-loving headlines I have read in a newspaper, your left-wing ‘Group Slates Meeting’ really showed your true commie sympathies.” Here’s another: “Editor, You lousy, hypocritical traitor! Calling yourself a journalist is like calling an organ grinder the New York Philharmonic. Love, Mother.” One more: “Please give more sports coverage to curling. Its popularity is right up there with indoor polo.” As we can see, the caliber of letters to the editor is slipping again, so once more we shall hold Letter Writing 101 (forgive the cliché) to upgrade the downtrodden readers who write. This is very important because most of us just read the newspapers, watch the shouting heads on TV, and feel left out of the conversation. No one cares what we think. George Wills and Maureen Dowd have their time in the spotlight, but what about the rest of us? The answer is: letters to the editor, our chance to spout off. However, in order to get our message in the paper, there are a few rules we need to follow. First, keep it short. No one wants to read your three-page epistle on garbage pickup. On the other hand, you can be too short. “You’re nuts!” needs some explaining, as does: “That’s ridiculous!” Second, don’t begin your letter with: “Now let me get this straight.” Such an opening shot tells everyone that you are confused. You have trouble understanding the details of the infield fly rule, let alone the paper-or-plastic conundrum. Why should anyone bother to wade through your mental sorting-out process? We’re busy. Once you “get it straight,” write again, until then, leave us alone. Here’s another non-starter: “It has come to my attention…” or the parallel: “It has been pointed out to me….” How’s that again? You are too important and busy to actually read a newspaper to keep yourself informed about the rest of the world, so you have minions sift through the media for your daily briefing. Boy, you must really be famous and powerful, which makes the rest of us hate you. Pace yourself. All newspapers have professional letter writers who feel their opinions are so important that they must be read by others on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Quite probably each time the paper arrives, the very first page they turn to is the letters page to see if their penetrating analysis on soybean subsidies made print. At one paper I worked on, the letters editor, Slants Bias, tossed some offerings unopened because he recognized the writer’s name and knew that his last letter had run two days earlier. News bulletin: A major change has come about in letters to the editor, e-mail. Years past, a reader would write a letter about something he or she didn’t like in the paper – no one in the history of journalism has ever written a letter in support of any article except those that demand lynching the editor: which would be published a week later. Now, with e-mail, we are instantly able to express our outrage. A few more helpful hints: liberalmedia is not one word. Neither is drivebypress. Also, “media” is not singular but is plural. “The media ARE a bunch of bomb-throwing pinkos.” Another suggestion: Do not write, “A wise man once said…” The only exception is when you are quoting someone named A. Wise Man. Otherwise, who cares what this anonymous person said? Unless you are William Buckley, use short, easily understandable words. If an editor or reader has to use the dictionary to find out what you mean, they won’t. While we’re at it, keep the subject of your diatribe simple. If no one knows what you are writing about, they’ll turn the page. Avoid foreign words, especially French words. Qui? Try to spel correctedly and used gud grammer. If you want to use a funny put-down of a prominent person, a zinger that you just heard, don’t. By the time you heard it, so has everyone else. “Cry Wolfowitz,” “Bush league” and “Cher the wealth” were funny the first 20 times I read them in letters, then those terms lost their freshness. Be careful about replying to another letter. Editors tend to toss: “In reply to John Turnipseed’s insulting answer to Maggie Smith’s observation of the Rev. Deuteronomy J. Leviticus’ quoting Letters to the Corinthians….” Since I didn’t read the first letter, or the second, I don’t care what you think. Editors are used to being insulted, ridiculed and misquoted, but do not end your letter with, “I know where you live” or “Update your obit.” Do not write: “I am SURPRISED that no one has mentioned THE MOST IMPORTANT point in (fill in the blank).” Other readers will figure, quite correctly, that you are a supercilious, condescending blow-hard who is so intelligent and perceptive that you have spotted something the rest of us dullards overlooked. Go suck a rock. Here is a good example of one rule: “That fish wrapper you put out contains the most wishy-washy editorials I have ever read. Take a stand! Show courage, and tell it like it is! (Name withheld by request)” Most newspapers will not run anonymous letters but will, in certain instances, withhold the writer’s name if there is a good reason – a crime victim, whistle-blower, hit man. But in such cases, don’t blow your cover. “I work in a grocery store which shall be nameless at 123 Sewage Street, in the meat section, and know that our beef is tainted, the fish have been frozen and the turkeys come from rat-infested pens in Bangladesh. When I complained, my boss said, ‘Don’t tell a soul, Findley.’ But customers should know. Please don’t use my name. Findley S. Cobweb.” Finally, if you really want your thoughts printed in the newspaper, follow the above rules, don’t send the letter postage due, but enclose several crisp $10 bills. Good luck, and don’t write me. Ashby writes at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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