Copy crunch must mean shorter letters

December 30, 1999

The time has come, as a character in children's story once said, to talk of many things, but first about letters to the editor.

As this is written, there are 99 letters to the editor in type and waiting for a place on the editorial page. That total doesn't count the 20 or more that haven't yet been typed into the paper's computer system.

The good news is that unlike some newspapers, The Herald-Mail has no problem getting readers to express their opinions on a variety of topics, from national politics to local traffic.

The bad news is that because of rising newsprint prices, the amount of space available to print these letters has been cut, even as new methods of delivery - e-mail and fax - have made it easier to get letters to us. At one time, the Sunday Herald-Mail had four full pages for letters and commentary; today there are just two.


The publisher has been generous in making some extra pages available on an occasional basis when the backlog threatens to overwhelm us, but now we've got to take other measures.

For a long time, we've asked readers to keep their letters in the 250-word range. We haven't been strict about that, because editing letters takes time, and invariably, someone whose letter has been trimmed, even a little bit, will call and tell me I've chopped out the heart of their argument.

We'd rather not do that, so we're going to ask letter writers to do it themselves. If they don't, however, we're going to have to do it for them, because when it comes right down to it, on any given day, we've got 10 pounds of opinions to fit in five pounds worth of space.

Of course, we'll make exceptions to this rule when the writer has some special expertise on what he or she is writing about, like Maryland House Speaker Cas Taylor, who recently wrote a long letter on state tax policy. If you've got such expertise, please note it in your letter.

Send letters to: Letters to the Editor, The Herald-Mail, 100 Summit Ave., Hagerstown, Md., 21740. They can also be e-mailed to, or sent by fax to (301) 714-0245. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number.

In last Thursday's column, I quoted from a letter I'd received about an alleged bullying incident at a local middle school. We haven't printed the letter because I need to talk to some person who can verify (or deny) the writer's allegation that discipline in the school is nearly non-existent.

I offered to meet off-the-record with faculty members, but so far I've had only an e-mail message from someone who may or may not be a teacher.

The subject line of the e-mail says "The kids are out of control ....but unfortunately in control."

Watching the deterioration of the system as it existed under the leadership of the late Dr. William Brish to what it has become "has been one of the most disappointing things in my life.

"So in the year 2000 I will prepare my students to take dictated politically correct tests without even offending a student by hurting their self-esteem with a micron of discipline. Thank God I only have a couple of more years to be insulted and belittled but I certainly pray for those that want to become teachers."

This sounds like a genuinely frustrated senior teacher, but like everything that comes across the Internet, without a face-to-face interview, I can't be sure who I'm talking to. What I do know for sure is that if what this person is saying is true, nothing will change unless someone (or a group of someones) is willing to come forward and talk about it.

An item on the wire yesterday says that the Baltimore Orioles' third baseman Cal Ripken Jr., has offered to donate $9 million to the effort to build a $20-million-plus stadium for minor league baseball in Aberdeen, Md.

Ripken's cash would be used for a complex of youth ball fields to surround the stadium and a baseball school to be known as the Ripken Academy. He will also try to lure the headquarters of the Babe Ruth league to Aberdeen so that their championship would be played there each year.

Just think of that: As part of a new stadium, Aberdeen would additional get youth sports fields and a shot at an annual event that should draw both media attention and tourism. Now all they need is a minor league baseball team. I wonder where they're looking for one.

Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion Page.

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