Why do letters to the editor all sound the same?
March 22, 2006 8:40 AM   Subscribe

How does the Economist get all the letters to the editor sound the same?

I read the Economist, and no matter where in the world a person is writing from, or what about, the letter sounds like it's coming from the same author. Is there a process to this, or do they only print letters that have the Economist "tone"? And why does every letter have to start with "SIR-"?
posted by BuddhaInABucket to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The same editor goes over each incoherent screed and makes it sound the same. Most newspapers and magazines do something similar.
posted by zadcat at 8:48 AM on March 22, 2006

The Economist is very good at making itself sound like one voice, in fact it's probably the best (no by-lines help the illusion).
posted by geoff. at 8:50 AM on March 22, 2006

Contra zadcat: Most newspapers and magazines don't rewrite letters, and especially not to make them all sound the same. Most do use a standard salutation ("sir", "to the editor" or whatever), if they use one at all. Economist letter writers may be emulating Economist-speak simply because they read the magazine and get the tone in their head Also, they may think it will enhance their chances of getting a letter published. The editors may tend to select those letters that sound most like the Econotone. And they certainly edit for correct British spelling and British styles such as plural verbs for enterprises, which may sound like a peculiar "tone" to those of us who aren't Brits.
posted by beagle at 9:06 AM on March 22, 2006

Letters to the editor are usually edited for length and to conform to house style.
posted by mcwetboy at 9:06 AM on March 22, 2006

I have, in fact, edited the letters page of a major newspaper. Editing on the letters page is almost always strictly a matter of space. You're trying to get as many different opinions and letters on the page as reasonably possible, but often people don't cooperate by sending in terse, smartly worded notes. When someone writes a 400 word letter and you have to cut that in half and still retain it's original point, there's alas not much room for letting the writer's voice bleed through, though you try and allow for that as much as possible.
posted by Heminator at 9:14 AM on March 22, 2006

What Heminator said. I've also edited letters at a newspaper, and have also done exactly what he describes.
posted by frogan at 10:53 AM on March 22, 2006

People tend to write letters to the editor in a manner similar to the style of other letter writers, and editors tend to select letters that are written in a similar style, because they consider it good writing. When I edited a paper, I refused to publish letters that were hostile or insulting, because, if you publish a few of them, the paper becomes consumed by hotile, insulting letter writers. Instead, I'd email the authors of the letters, telling them that we were interested in publishing their letters, but only if written in a civil tone.

The editor who followed me published letters with a glib, snarky title, wrote snide responses to letters, and published pretty much any letter that came over the transom. It didn't take more than a few weeks before the letters section of the paper was unreadable.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:00 AM on March 22, 2006

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