Letters to the editor: our answer to the comments “problem”

Comments will remain for now, but letters will be quality controlled and much more prominent

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Photo of hand writing a letter
Letters to the editor are now built into the GroundUp site. Photo: Masixole Feni

You can now write letters in reply to GroundUp articles. We will vet and edit letters. Published ones will appear prominently at the bottom of the article. Our front page will also list the latest letters. To write a letter, click on the button at the bottom of each article that says “Write a letter in response to this article”.

Image of Write Letter to Editor button

This will bring up a simple form you can use to submit your letter. We will do our best to make a decision within two working days, but usually much quicker (a few hours).

Daily Maverick, News24, TimesLive and IOL have disabled comments on their sites. On the other hand EWN has kept comments, and Politicsweb has left no doubt that they will stay.

Our position has been ambivalent. We allow comments on our website and have set up our Facebook page so that they appear only to the commenter and his or her Facebook friends. Removing racist, sexist or homophobic comments is time-consuming, and because we don’t read all the comments, we often miss some very bad ones. It’s particularly difficult to decide what to do with comments that are on the borderline of naked prejudice. The reality is that most comments add no value; people mostly use them to vent, not to provide insight.

Nevertheless, occasionally useful comments are made. It’s particularly valuable when readers use comments to point out an error in an article. We can usually fix the error immediately when this happens. Also on our social grants articles (here and here), readers have used comments to ask questions about grant access which we have been answering.

For now we will continue to keep comments on the site, but their appearance has been intentionally demoted. For one thing, you have to click a button to view them. Readers who find comments an annoying distraction no longer have to see them. But they will likely see the letters.

Here are some tips for getting your letter published:

  1. Keep it short: 100 to 350 words. We’ve limited letters to 2,100 characters.
  2. Provide relevant information or arguments.
  3. Be polite and respectful. No gratuitous insults.
  4. Do not rant. That’s what comments are for.
  5. Use your real name(s) unless there are exceptional circumstances.
  6. Use plain English.

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