In The New York Times Magazine, Jeanne Marie Laskas goes behind the scenes in the White House mailroom where “50 staff members, 36 interns, and a rotating roster of 300 volunteers” read and processed the 10,000 emails and letters President Barack Obama received daily during his eight-year presidency. From the 10,000 pieces of correspondence, staffers were charged with choosing the ten letters that Obama read each day.
President Obama was the first to come up with a deliberate and explicit practice of 10 letters every day. If the president was home at the White House (he did not tend to mail when he traveled), he would be reading constituent mail, and everyone knew it, and systems were put in place to make sure it happened. The mail had currency. Some staff members called it “the letter underground.” Starting in 2010, all hard mail would be scanned and preserved. Starting in 2011, every email every day would be used to create a word cloud, its image distributed around the White House so policy makers and staff members alike could get a glimpse at what everyday Americans were writing in to say.
Curating the 10LADs was a job she regarded as sacrosanct. She thought of it as a daily conversation with the president, each package an array of voices she believed most accurately rendered America’s mood: Here’s what America is feeling, Mr. President. “Sometimes I think of it as a tray passing under a door,” she said.