You may find this hard to believe, but there are newspapers elsewhere in the United States that struggle to get readers to write letters to the editor.
I am happy to report that this is not one of them.
As I started work on today's column, I went back and did a very fast (and undoubtedly not completely accurate) count of how many letters we've run on our Opinion pages over the last six months, since the start of May.
Here's the number I came up with, which I think is in the ballpark but may not be completely accurate: 584, close to an average of 100 a month.
Now, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the average length of those letters is about 200 words. (While some of you write shorter letters, most of you tend to use most of the words that you're allotted.) It works out to be about 116,800 words — about the size of two novels.
Most of those letters, as you know, have had some sort of connection with the 2018 elections. In fact, I noticed a surge in letters during the summer of 2016, when the presidential campaign started to heat up, and although the flow has ebbed a bit from time to time, it never has completely subsided. This year, it built to a veritable flood.
Part of this is because some local political campaigns have hit upon the idea that one relatively cheap way to build momentum is to convince supporters to write letters backing a particular candidate. I have no objection to this particular tactic, as long as letter writers make the case for their candidates in their own words. (It does provide a bit of a struggle when it comes time to write different headlines for each letter; while I appreciate readers who try to write their own headlines, those suggestions rarely fit in the space.) It's possible that some candidates inevitably will be disappointed in the results of this particular campaign tactic when election results roll in on Tuesday night.
The truth is that, despite the hours spent getting letters to the editor ready for print, I love getting them. It's important to me that a local newspaper gives a voice to its readers on the Opinion page. Given a choice between printing your letters or running some national columnist, I will almost always give the edge to the local letters. (And it is interesting that, even in our digital age, most of you still prefer to see your letter in print.)
So I am fearful that the flow of letters will diminish to a trickle as soon as Tuesday's election is over. To help prevent that, allow me to offer some suggested topics that I hope will provide the necessary inspiration to keep you glued to your keyboards, and to keep a steady stream of letters flowing onto the Opinion page:
• The results of the 2016 election: How could voters be so easily misguided? What a bunch of dopes.
• Those darned Republicans: What kind of mischief are they up to now?
• Those darned Democrats: What kind of mischief are they up to now?
• Those nonaffiliated voters: What do they really want? Can they be trusted?
• Oregon State University: What does it really want? Can it be trusted?
• That 2019 session of the Oregon Legislature: What sort of fresh outrages are our elected representatives planning?
• Why won't the cars in my neighborhood slow down?
• What can we do about the apparently unstoppable spread of traffic lights in the mid-valley?
• The weather's been nice lately, hasn't it? Maybe ... too nice? Should we be worried? What should we do about it?
• How can we be sure that the squirrels in our neighborhoods aren't hatching some kind of plot? That cute and fuzzy appearance has to be some kind of front.
• Will men ever start wearing neckties again?
• Why are ponchos suddenly back in fashion? Who is responsible for this outrage?
• Daylight saving time: How much longer will we continue to fall for this nonsense? (The extra hour you allegedly picked up earlier this morning when we "fell back" could be spent writing a letter on this, or any other, topic.)
And, finally, here's the topic that likely will just keep on giving:
• The 2020 election. Remember, the campaign season for 2020 starts on Wednesday. You get two letters a month. That gives you only 48 chances to weigh in before the polls close in November 2020. There's no reason why you should waste even one of them. (mm)