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Monday, Sep 23 2013 12:52 PM

'First Look': Editor takes listeners behind the scenes of letters

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    Scott Cox talks with Californian Associate Editorial Page Editor Mark Powell about letters to the editor that have not been published for various reasons on "First Look with Scott Cox."

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What goes into publishing a letter to the editor? A lot of care, according to Californian Associate Editorial Page Editor Mark Powell.

He talked about what he does to verify and research letters Monday on "First Look with Scott Cox."

For his part, Scott Cox suggested reading letters to the editor would be a dream job.

"The kookier the letters are, the better the entertainment," Cox said.

Powell said he reads each letter to make sure facts are accurate. He looks for local authors of well-written, factually based letters -- and sometimes he receives an abundance of letters that will never run.

"There's anything from someone condemning whole groups of people without evidence, to letters that are 2,000 words, when our limit is about 250 words," Powell said.

Powell sometimes spends several hours on one letter, researching claims and facts so he can send a proper rejection letter if warranted.

Cox asked whether people still send handwritten letters; Powell said about 90 percent of letters arrive via email.

One particular letter that sparked a red flag for Powell was written by someone outside Kern County. It was well-written and articulate, but he knew something was off.

"I took a paragraph from the letter and Googled it and this letter appeared in a dozen newspapers around the country with different bylines and no one ever verified it," Powell said.

But a letter complaining about Cox was the star of the show. In an August Eye Street column, Cox said seniors don't leave good tips at restaurants and that they tend to send food back to the kitchen.

An 85-year-old writer disagreed, saying, "Mr. Cox has left me with anger in my soul. . . his comments were insulting. . . Mr. Cox needs to apologize to the generation that fostered his father."

Cox said he wouldn't apologize, but said that his comments were to the general public and may not apply to everyone.


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