Newspaper offers renewed promise to keep up guard

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 27, 2000

It was an error we hope never happens again.

Friday, October 27, 2000

It was an error we hope never happens again. However, it happens at every newspaper on occasion.

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What happened was that we recently published a letter to the editor on our editorial page that was not written by the person it was purported to have been written by. Someone pulled a mean trick and got away with it.

Unfortunately, it hurt those mentioned in the letter as well as the person whose name was signed to the letter.

We’re just as much at fault for publishing the letter as the person who pulled the prank. We dropped our guard, didn’t do what we were supposed to, and the letter slipped through the cracks.

When we receive a letter to the editor, we request that we have a telephone number to call to confirm the letter writer did indeed write the letter. In 99 percent of the time, we’re able to reach the person and the letter is printed in the Herald. In 1 percent of the time, the letter writer cannot be reached, has no phone number listed that we can find, or the letter is proven to be bogus.

The prank letter that we printed was received as an e-mail. Now, there’s a lot to be said about those who can abuse the technology. Generally speaking, the e-mail address gives credence to the letter writer’s identity. But as our Web site indicates, we also need a telephone number to call to confirm the letter with the writer. At the very least, we have a telephone number as a backup.

In the case of the prank letter we printed, the letter was not confirmed before we printed it. We should have confirmed it, however, and by the time we printed the letter, the original e-mail no longer was in our computer system.

If we receive a letter to the editor via e-mail, we request a telephone number from the sender if they don’t already include it in their e-mail or submission from our Web site. Unless we can confirm the letter, it doesn’t run.

This election season, we’ve received many letters from our readers regarding the various candidates running for public office. We’re printing all those letters, except those that come from people outside our readership area. The Internet makes it just too easy for people to send an e-mail to 3,000 newspapers with one easy click. We’re primarily interested in what our readers have to say, not what some person in California thinks (unless of course, there is a local connection).

Much like the Gulf War put airports on increased security alerts, our news staff is on an increased alert to make sure we’re definitely checking the origins of every letter to the editor we receive. If we don’t, another one will slip through the cracks again, and then we’re guilty of a disservice.

Please don’t be offended when we call to verify your letter. It’s the only way we can confirm who you are and that your information indeed is from someone willing to sign their name to the letter.

Hopefully, no other letters will fall through the cracks and we’ll redouble our efforts to ensure such an embarrassment doesn’t occur again.