Box Full of Letters: How NPR Selects Mail for Air

radio holding a letter i i
istockphoto.com
radio holding a letter
istockphoto.com

From time to time we hear from listeners asking why their letter wasn't chosen for the All Things Considered letters segment.

One man called our office last week and sent an email. "This is my second letter in 30 years. The other didn't make it on the air. Don't know why," he wrote.

"I just happened to hear you read comments concerning your mistaken reference to our current 'Daylight Savings Time' and whether football or baseball should be proclaimed the national pastime. Are these listener comments the most air-worthy from among the weekly harvest?," wrote Fred Zackon from Newburyport, MA.

The letters segment inspired a column by Slate's Farhad Manjoo last March. Manjoo lamented how critical the letters are of NPR's pop culture coverage, calling NPR letter-writers the "stodgiest, whiniest, most self-importantly insufferable snobs of all time."

Now I don't think that's true, but we decided to ask Christopher Turpin, the executive producer of All Things Considered, to share the selection process:

There's no magic formula for compiling letters. Critiques, observations and anecdotes inspired by stories we run all have a place in letters. We always look for letters that correct mistakes and clarify facts. But we also look for crisp, entertaining, well written e-mails. Generally, criticism trumps praise; the letters segment is an opportunity for listeners to take us to task, not a space for patting ourselves on the backā€”not that we're immune to a little back patting once in a while. When a story generates a lot of mail letters are selected in approximate proportion to the audience response. For example, Laura Sullivan's recent story about Native American childrentaken into foster care generated hundreds of e-mails complementing her reporting, as well as a few dissenters. We aired three letters praising aspects of the story and one critic.

What you don't hear in our letters segments; letters that merely recite political talking points, letters generated by organized campaigns or abusive screeds (sadly we get quite a few...). Also, we won't use your letter unless you include your full name and where you are writing from.

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