Not looking to be sued, just wanted to express an opinion...
October 21, 2008 6:38 PM   Subscribe

Do most newspapers allow anonymous letters to the editor?

I recently submitted an anonymous letter to the editor of my local newspaper regarding a pet store's treatment of its ferrets. I had spoken to the store employees and management several times, but was always treated rudely and dismissed. I looked on the paper's website for guidelines, but did not find them, so I mailed my letter in.

I do not subscribe to our local paper, so it was a couple days later before I saw a paper copy and the printed guidelines. Apparently, you must submit name, address, and phone number with your letter. I did not think this would be an issue, but now I wonder if this is the status quo for newspapers or just the decision of my local, conservative paper. Please let me know. Thank you, Metafilter friends.
posted by melangell to Grab Bag (12 answers total)
The Chicago papers, Tribune and Sun-Times call you to verify that you did write the letter. I don't think they print unattributed letters.
posted by lee at 6:48 PM on October 21, 2008

Best answer: I've never seen a newspaper that would print anonymous letters to the editor. It might be one thing for a paper to publish a letter as "name withheld" but I've always understood that to mean that the person has signed the letter and asked the paper not to publish their name, not that the paper didn't have the name.
posted by tiamat at 6:48 PM on October 21, 2008

Yeah, they want a certain amount of accountability, but depending on the content they might withhold the name.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:51 PM on October 21, 2008

Actually, I have never known a paper not to require a name. In fact, our local city council just decided not to take part in an experimental Internet site that would allow citizens to comment on the boards decisions online. The reason given for not taking part was because the forum didn't require names. It makes sense to me. Anonymous aspersions don't seem all that productive. And as my local paper seems to prove, anonymous commenting invites very unproductive bickering and snark.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:53 PM on October 21, 2008

Regarding the letters: The folks above have it correct. A paper won't even consider printing a letter whose author it can't verify.

Regarding the ferrets: An LTE in the newspaper isn't the way to go, unless you live in a really, really small town whose paper has little or no news content. You're much better off contacting the SPCA, the local animal control department (which, in my case, is part of the county government), and the Better Business Bureau.

If you seriously want to effect change, you should do these things before trying to shed light on the problem. And when it comes to making it public, you'll probably have a lot more luck with one of those Gotcha consumer-affair reporters at a local TV news affiliate than you will with the newspaper. They froth over that stuff.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:56 PM on October 21, 2008

No name no letter (at least at the paper I work for). This said though, if it was newsworthy it might get passes onto a reporter (I doubt it in this case though).
posted by cjorgensen at 7:01 PM on October 21, 2008

Best answer: Several years ago I was able to get a letter published in my local community newspaper using a fake name. I sent it in snail-mail but provided no address or phone number. And they printed it.

Probably not the greatest idea, but I was pretty protective of my privacy, hence the fake name.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 7:05 PM on October 21, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers.

P.S. I did report them as suggested above and conditions did improve a bit.
posted by melangell at 7:07 PM on October 21, 2008

Nthing that for a lot of good reasons, newspapers won't print anonymous letters. Nor will they usually print signed letters that are essentially consumer disputes with vendors, although in this case it sounds more like you are observing animal abuse and want to expose it. I'm sure you have your own reasons for wanting anonymity, but if you feel strongly enough about something you ought to sign your name to it.
posted by beagle at 7:21 PM on October 21, 2008

Best answer: My local newspaper has a column called Sound Off, in which they print unattributed comments received via voicemail. They reviewed this feature about a year ago, contacting a variety of peer newspapers, and found no other newspaper that offers such a feature. They did restrict their rules in that review (for instance, no longer printing comments that name private individuals such as crime victims or perpetrators) but maintained it for now.

They do not print anonymous letters to the editor.

By way of comparison worthy of consideration, the same paper -- and almost all news sites of any note globally -- allows effectively anonymous comments on the website.
posted by dhartung at 1:35 AM on October 22, 2008

Best answer: Lots of people do Letters To The Editor pseudonymously.

Standard practice amongst my activist friends is Middle-Name Mom's-Maiden-Name when writing to or being interviewed by the local press. Usually when speaking out on controversial issues under our real names would cause problems at work or attract hatemail.
posted by the latin mouse at 9:37 AM on October 22, 2008

Lots of alt-weeklys and college papers will withold names even if they don't allow anonymous letters. I've seen this in the NY Press and the Village Voice for sure.
posted by Jahaza at 11:52 AM on October 22, 2008

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