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There are reasons for our letters policy

A letter to the editor submission came through our Virtual Newsroom early last week. Titled “Surviving the coronavirus,” what started as a discussion of the ongoing pandemic quickly turned into an encouragement of taking up a diet based more on vegetables and fruits, and less on meats, sugar and dairy.

You won’t see this letter on our pages today for a very important reason. It wasn’t real.

What I mean by that is, while the words were there, the name, address and phone number included with the submission didn’t quite match up to reality. The street given was one in Weirton, sure enough, although I had difficulty finding the exact address. The name was vaguely familiar, although not for the reasons I had thought. The phone number, however, was not local. It could have been a cell phone, so I started looking into it. A search immediately brought up the websites of several newspapers with letters claiming to have been written by a number of people with that same phone number. These newspapers were across the country, sometimes with the same letters. That’s when I remembered receiving similar letters about eight or nine years ago, claiming to be from this same “Weirton resident,” hence why the name was familiar.

Also this week, I’ve received multiple emailed letters with different names expressing support for non-profits and charitable organizations during the various COVID shutdowns. You also won’t be seeing them because, while it is important to support our charities, these multiple emails included the exact same letter. It was a form letter, allegedly coming from people throughout the Northern Panhandle, western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.

I always encourage our residents to write letters to the editor. It’s an opportunity for you to express your opinion on the topic of the day, or to thank another individual or group, or for many other reasons. We do have a specific policy for accepting a letter, though. It can be found on the bottom of our Page 4A in each day’s newspaper.

We simply ask for letters no more than 500 words, with no personal attacks against individuals or businesses. Also, include your name (no anonymous letters, please), along with an address and phone number for verification purposes.

Most of the time, it’s not a problem. Residents, whether they are readers of our newspaper or not, have been good about following the policy, and if not, we explain to them why their letter is not acceptable.

Every once in a while, though, we do receive these mass form letters or someone trying to use a false identity.

We’ve been fortunate, in some ways, that we receive so few letters, and usually from the same individuals, because we are familiar with who they are. Some have even adopted a schedule for submitting their letters.

We want our letters to the editor section to feature genuine thoughts, with original opinion content written and submitted by actual individuals. We simply ask those submitting letters to follow the policy we have had in place for years.

There are reasons we ask you for a name, address and telephone number when you submit a letter. We will never publish your exact address or phone number, but we need them to assist in our verification process.

We would prefer not printing a bunch of form letters from several people on the same topic. We never want to have something in our newspaper by someone who doesn’t actually exist.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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