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Editorial - A lot of lovely letters and not enough space

April 01, 1998

As this is being written, there are 49 reader letters in the computer-storage files of Herald-Mail's editorial page editor. This number doesn't include letters that have arrived here, but have not been edited or typeset. By the end of the week, the backlog could easily could be up to 60 or 65.

For letter writers, it means waiting, on average, at least two weeks to see their letters in print. By that time, they say, the immediacy of their letters are often lost and the topic they were commenting on has faded from the public's memory. Local columnist Ruth Brown, who's been writing for The Herald-Mail for five years, recently ended her column, citing lack of space for her submissions.

Barring emergencies, which we try to accommodate - a short plea for attendance at a hastily scheduled community meeting, for example - we're doing the best we can do, under the present circumstances.

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These are our limitations: At most we can get four or five average-sized letters in on any given day, and up to 20 on Sunday. That would just about take care of our current backlog, except that new letters come in every day. By week's end, there are as many letters waiting for a spot on the page as there were when the week began.

Part of the problem is that because of the rising cost of newsprint, the editorial part of the Sunday NewsPlus section has been trimmed from its original four pages to two. We've tried to cope by eliminating all syndicated material from Sunday, and by dropping regular editorial cartoons from the daily papers.

It hasn't been enough. The ability to e-mail and fax letters has only attracted new letter writers, and the addition of The Daily Mail's "Mail Call" feature, which we expected to cut down on the number of letters, hasn't made a dent.

The Herald-Mail is lucky in that respect. Other newspapers have a tough time getting their readers to write. We value those communications, but we're mighty short of ideas on how to handle the volume of mail we get in a timely manner.

What we're asking readers to tell us in the second edition of our new Quick Comment feature, is to look at a few of the possibilities we've thought about that are contained in a column on the right-hand side of this page.

Tell us what you think in 100 words or less, before Tuesday, April 7. And if you've got a better idea we haven't thought of, please share it with us.

Send your letters to Quick Comment, Editorial Page Editor, The Herald-Mail, 100 Summit Ave., Hagerstown, Md., 21740. If you've got a fax, send your letter to (301) 714-0245, or by e-mail to news@herald-mail.com.

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