Letter writing alive in N.H.

By: Brian Orloff Greg Andruskevich gets more mail than you do. That's because he's letters editor at The Union Leader in Manchester, N.H., a newspaper that prides itself on its interactive relationship with readers. In 2004 alone, the newspaper printed more than 5,100 letters to the editor, breaking its own record from the 1970s.

That breaks down to about 15 a day, more than some papers publish in a week. "I think with the advent of the Internet, people find it easier to write," Andruskevich says. But the paper, once headed by conservative icon William Loeb and always a factor in the country's first presidential primary, has long been a political lightning rod.

Andruskevich has worked at the newspaper for 36 years and served as letters editor for 30 (he's also the veterans editor). His day begins at 9 a.m. when he starts sifting through his mail, though he has help from his "partner in crime," Jim Ferriter, a desk copy editor. Andruskevich also edits the editorial page. "It makes for a busy day," he says.

For a paper that receives so many letters, how would Andruskevich describe a slow year? "Somewhere around 3,000 letters," he replies.

To meet demands, the Union Leader ? which is hardly a big paper, serving a town of about 107,000 people ? carries four letters pages a day, though some letters run in other, non-Op-Ed sections. Depending on the season or the political climate, readers dash off their missives more frequently.

"During the primary election it was a crazy time," Andruskevich says. "We'd get over 100 letters a day. It makes for interesting reading." He'll often reach the end of a long letter and find the frustrating instruction, "Don't publish this letter."

With such a high volume of letters, it's hard to recall particular favorites. "We get so many they just fade into the distance once you've seen them in print," he says. Though there are some regular correspondents, the newspaper's policy restricts publishing letters by the same author within a two-week span. "I know of one fellow, he's from Bristol," Andruskevich says. "He writes letters probably twice a week."

The Union Leader is open to all letters save for those containing libel or obscene material. A smattering of letters from a typical day in early January shows a wide range of subject matter: A marine stationed in Iraq offers to help answer readers' questions about the war. A handful of letters respond to a recent editorial about SUVs. And some worry about the possibility of privatizing social security, including one reader who believes the government is conspiring against his family. "My wife and I can't afford medication ... We'll probably die soon ... I truly believe that's the government's plan," he writes.

Occasionally the paper will print religious stories and letters from prisoners. "If they're from a prisoner, we'll double-check. You have to be careful. Some of them are looking for pen pals," he says.

Andruskevich champions the newspaper's openness to its readers' opinions, a sentiment echoed by publisher Joseph W. McQuaid. "We know of no other newspaper that is as open to its readers' views and opinions," he said in a statement.

And fostering that dialogue is something that dates back to William Loeb's tenure as publisher from 1946 to 1981. "When William Loeb was alive ... if he took issue with something a [reader] wrote, he'd say run the letter in full and he'd add his comments to it," Andruskevich says, something that often surprised readers who were not expecting an instant reply.

Others prefer to share opinions contrary to the newspaper's own political persuasion. "A lot of writers don't agree with us," Andruskevich says, "and I think it's good they get the chance."


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