The Star must apply the same legal standards to letters to the editor as it does with any news story. The Star is liable for everything it publishes, both in print and online, regardless of who wrote it. Any libel, invasion of privacy or copyright infringement in a letter must be spotted and removed before the letter is published.
Verifying letters to the editor
No letter to the editor should appear in the Northern Star’s print or online editions before it is verified – that is, until the editor is sure
that the person whose name is on the letter or e-mail is really the person who wrote it.
1. In all cases, even if it’s a “regular” letter writer, the person must be contacted by phone or in person – not solely by e-mail. E-mail
addresses can be faked or fabricated.
2. Look up the number in a telephone directory (print or online). Do not just call the number listed on the letter. That could be fake, too.
3. When you reach the person by phone, say something like: “We received a letter to the editor from you, and I’m calling to verify that you wrote it and would like it to be published. Could you summarize your letter in a sentence or two?”
4. Once everything checks out, mark the letter “Verified,” along with your name and the date. If it’s an e-mailed letter, print it
and mark it the same way.
For hand-delivered letters: Ask the person for a driver’s license and match the name on the license with the name on the letter.
If a person’s number is unlisted and the letter was e-mailed: E-mail the person back and ask him/her to stop by the Star so we can verify the
If the number is unlisted and the letter was snail-mailed: Snail-mail the person back and ask him/her to stop by the Star for verification.
Other things to watch for:
Same names. If the person has a common name (like Robert Smith), or if you see more than one of the same name listed in the phone directory, also get a middle initial. That way, conservative Robert Smith doesn’t get mad when liberal Robert Smith states an opinion.
Use good judgment. A letter that congratulates the flower club on a successful garden show does not need the same amount of scrutiny as a letter that accuses a public official of wrongdoing.