The LetterVox: a proposal for handling letters to the editor

Media | Language/Structure
Linking from a published article to a letters-to-the-editor written in regards to it makes sense; it’s the essence of constructive media. Still, with a decade of web journalism underway, why is this not a standard convention by online newspapers? Some online newspapers, like, have made it easier for a blog post to be attached to article via their deal with Technorati. The problem with letting Technorati manage backlinks is that there’s very little quality control. A blog post may reference an article only tangentially. Worse, articles have been hit with spam from porn sites, and with so many articles to track, this may not be corrected for months. (I had written a letter in January to the appropriate editors at Washington Post Newsweek Interactive, and I never got an answer back whether they have set up a process to fix it. They did clean up one instance of spam I pointed out to them.)

This does a disservice to the readers who take time to write a letter specifically intended to the newspaper. It also does a disservice to the other readers who find the article subsequently and don’t see the follow-up letters.

Here’s an idea that comes straight from my experience in the software industry: Why not have a single form which handles all input? I’ve put together an example below.

The letter-writer should have a clear list of options. They should be able to select a ViewPoint to help route the letter, and furthermore categorize it for subsequent analysis. For example, how many people agreed with the article? This information is horded by newsrooms; it should be public “social data” to be made available to readers.

The other advantage of a web form over direct email is that the editorial office can leverage the subscription status of a letter-writer. After all, paying subscribers should be rewarded with certain benefits. Perhaps one privilege is that a letter from a subscriber should go right to the website; all others would be flagged for moderation (Presently, most cheap blogging software tends to have little integration with the membership services, and thus uses cruder mechanisms to flag as possible spam– like counting the number of links in a submission. This is doubly insulting to paying subscribers).

The last question to consider is whether a website truly has unlimited space for letters. Some letters add value and some may detract– containing obscenities, falsehoods, etc. In that case, there’s the Incivilities blog: a public sink for the most colorful letters that wouldn’t otherwise be published in a family newspaper.


Thank you for responding to the article via this form. Doing so will make it easier for our staff to manage the high volume of letters we get, and to also provide a better dialogue with our readers.

Please consider publishing my letter in the paper
Publish to the web and attach to the article page if possible
I’d like a response from the reporter
I wish to be anonymous; do not quote me directly
Send a copy to my email address

I am a source mentioned in this article


I have published a response at this URL:

I am submitting my letter below: