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What appears on our Viewpoints page and why? That was a topic that surfaced at our Wednesday editorial board meeting because of a recent unscientific reader survey conducted by the Advocate. The results of the survey that the editorial board is interested in dealt with community contributed content (i.e. letters to the editor, thumbs-up/down, speak outs, guest columns) and what readers’ perceptions are pertaining to the decisions we make to publish that content.

For example, one survey question asked: If a reader writes unsubstantiated information in a signed letter to the editor for the printed newspaper, do you think the Victoria Advocate should...

  1. Refuse to publish it – 26.3 percent
  2. Publish it as is – 55.3 percent
  3. Edit it, and then publish it – 15.8 percent

If you would like to participate in the survey, go online here: www.surveymonkey.com/verifyingthenews

How content on the Viewpoints page is published is unclear to readers. We’ve also heard from time to time other perceptions that should be addressed, such as the Viewpoints page is primarily for the newspaper’s point of view, and if a reader submits an opposing view, it won’t be published. This perception is not true.

The topic spurred a lively discussion among members of the Advocate’s editorial board.

Community content and decision to publish:

First, and above all, we publish all letters and other reader-submitted content that meet our criteria. This means reader-submitted content is solely the readers’ opinions, not ours. We have the Viewpoints page as a forum for all opinions meeting our criteria.

Our criteria: Our basic rules deal with maximum words because we only have so much space in the printed newspaper to get in as many opinions as possible. Letters should be no more than 350 words for general topics, but we also accept thank-you letters at 150 words and political endorsement letters at 200-word maximum length.

Thumbs-up/down and speak outs should be no more than a couple of paragraphs.

We also require the letter writer’s full name, address and phone number so we can verify he or she wrote the letter we receive. For thumbs-up/down contact information is required, too, but only the writer’s first name and city of residence is published.

We require some kind of expertise from guest columnists on the subjects they address. And guest columns should be no more than 700-750 words.

On occasion we receive a letter that deals with a consumer complaint. We do not publish these letters and encourage consumer complaints be sent to our watchdog reporter, Gabe Semenza, at gsemenza@vicad.com or call him at 361-580-6519. He might investigate the complaint and file a story about it.

Of course, letters that deal with facts are checked out to be sure they are accurate. This point becomes gray when opinions are expressed about facts. For example, if a reader does not believe the fact, then he or she might say the fact is not true. Generally, we publish contrary opinions about facts, but will not publish inaccurate facts.

We do not run letters that include personal attacks. Attacks on a letter writer’s opinion is generally acceptable, but attacks on the writer are not. With this in mind, however, we do not allow negative comments in Thumbs or Speakouts pertaining to a letter to the editor signed in full by a writer.

We do not publish letters containing profane, leud or graphic content.

Other content on the Viewpoints page may be from other sources than readers.

We have political cartoons, syndicated columnists and other-views editorials on certain days. Again, these views are not necessarily our view, but we try to publish all views for Viewpoints, not just one view.

We try to balance the topic of the cartoons from day-to-day, choosing a conservative view one day and a liberal view the next.

Syndicated columnists are published the same way as are other-view editorials. We try to balance views. However, on occasion, we may not be able to find a syndicated columnist or other-view opposing view.

We do spotlight some comments in letters, and these are generally letters that are heart-warming or about someone who helped another in need. Our view is that these should be spotlighted.

Our-views editorials are where we express the editorial board’s consensus view on community topics. We stick to community topics that have some impact on Victoria or the Crossroads.

We encourage readers to contact us with questions pertaining to the Viewpoints page because we know as we try, there is probably some unusual publishing point we might have missed. We hope the points laid out here help to understand our opinion page. Our goal is to clarify the criteria and decision-making pertaining to the Viewpoints page content. We know explanations don’t always cover everything, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

Finally, we invite you to let your opinions be published and heard. Here's how:

We will need your name, home address and daytime telephone or cell phone number so we can contact you to verify you want your opinion published. When sending letters by email, and if you do not hear from us within a couple of days, you should call us to see if we received your letter because, sometimes, our email filter will not let a letter through. Our letter lengths are 150 words for thank-yous, 200 words for election-related letters and 350 words for all others. We ask that letter writers submit one letter per 30-day period. Letters may be delivered at the Advocate, 311 E. Constitution St.; mailed to P.O. Box 1518, Victoria 77902; faxed to 361-574-1220; or emailed to letters@vicad.com.

Come meet with us and learn the ins and outs of letters firsthand

What: A one-on-one with the community's readers and writers and community conversation editor Tim Delaney

Learn all the hows to get a letter, thumbs, speakout and more published.

When: 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11

Where: 311 E. Constitution St. in the Victoria Advocate's Green Room, a comfortable meeting room on the first floor.