A couple weeks ago, I asked for reader feedback -- what's the Sun-Star doing right or wrong?
Everywhere I went, friends and strangers alike listed their gripes, compliments and ideas. My Sun Dog e-mail inbox, usually fairly dormant, began bustling with activity.
It seems everyone has comments or suggestions. Some wanted to remain anonymous while others gave me permission to quote them.
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There were four common gripes -- in no particular order:
Letters to the editor.
Events that were not covered.
Misspelling and similar miscues.
I was taken aback by the strong reaction to headlines. Folks pay a lot of attention to them. Almost all comments were negative.
"No cutesy headlines!"
"I have noticed in the last couple of years that journalists both locally and nationally have fallen in love with plays on words and other grammatical cleverness ..." (anonymous).
"Why do the headlines always say, 'DA's son commits crime' or 'Sheriff sergeant's wife commits crime' or 'Police chief's son held on robbery charges'? Don't these folks have names?" (Several readers)
Sun Dog has a favorite headline gaffe. One of my earlier columns pointed out that 80 percent of editorials first appear in another McClatchy paper.
"Not all editorials are locally written."
The harshest comments involved writing letters to the editor. Writers were very passionate and protective about their words, reminding me of a mother bear with a new litter of cubs.
One lady, Florence Lambert, and I had quite a back-and-forth dialogue. She was livid, saying she was so mad that she probably cut her original letter into a million pieces. But, as luck would have it, she found it and sent it to me.
After reviewing her original and her published letter, I met with editor Keith Jones who gave me a complete tour of the Sun-Star's editing system. Afterwards we edited (well, I watched as he edited) several letters.
It was a good learning experience for me.
Here's what I gleaned:
a. Most letters to the editor arrive via e-mail.
b. The "system" is really primitive. It would be easy to lose things.
c. Most letters to the editor (that I saw) were too long, many much too long.
d. Most letters to the editor didn't focus on a single topic.
e. The editing process is mostly devoted to spelling, grammar and making the letter fit into the extremely limited space.
f. There is a booklet, published by the Associated Press -- the "AP Stylebook" that is followed religiously.
g. All letters are edited. Even though they may "not be changed at all, they do go through the editing process."
Jones has advice for letter writers: Make your letters short and limited to a single topic. Avoid long, run-on sentences. Use fewer adjectives and more verbs.
He also said that, "Writers seem to have the notion that writing a letter to the editor will change the world. It's not so."
Oh, what about Florence's letter?
Anatomy of a Letter to the Editor
1. Attached here is the photograph that ran inside the Sun-Star on Friday, Feb. 6, 2009, that prompted Florence Lambert to write her letter to the editor:
2. This was the original letter mailed to Sun-Star Feb. 6, 2009, before it was edited:
Editor: The true meaning of Ironic defined itself Feb. 6, 2009, in the SunStar. It was an article regarding the necessity to close all California DMV'S the first and third Fridays of each month in an effort to decrease the FORTY TWO BILLION dollar deficit of our state. It had a picture of the manager of the
DMV holding signs that will be posted in all DMV's regarding this two day a month closure. Here, folks, comes your definition of Ironic-one sign is in English and one is in Mexican! Hello!!!!
This was too much for me to handle and should be for all true, contributing, hard working legal Californian's!
If you have any doubts what illegal immigration is doing to this state and this country, take the time to find out the percent of illegals that work for cash and pay no taxes, that have murder warrants outstanding, their number of daily births paid for by Medi-Cal, their numbers in our prisons, crowding our schools, crowding our doctor's offices, Hospitals and emergency rooms-all being paid for by you, the Working Tax Payer of California. No one needs to wonder why our state deficit is FORTY TWO BILLION DOLLARS. Do you not see this whole state structure imploding?
You, the hard working contributing people of California - get Mad!
Contact your congressman and raise holy Cain! Do something! Don't just sit back and complain!
Note to Editor of Sunstar...I had a Spanish person read the signs and there WERE NOT IN SPANISH but are of the Mexican Language - you can check this out yourself.
3. This was the edited version that appeared on the Perspective page:
Editor: If you would like to see what's wrong in this state, please turn to page B2 of the Feb. 6 Sun-Star. It shows the manager of the Department of Motor Vehicles in Placerville holding signs that will be posted at all DMVs stating they will be closed for furloughs because of our $42 billion state deficit, one in English and one in Spanish.
This picture was just too much for me.
Do you not get it, Americans?
I ask you -- the hard-working, contributing people of California -- get mad. Contact your congressman or write the president, but do something.
Next week, Sun Dog will divulge readers' thoughts on event coverage and proofreading.
Tom Frazier writes Sun Dog and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.