Writing Letters to the Editor
Letters-to-the-editor (and their larger relatives, op-eds) are one of the best ways local activists can regularly participate in the political process, reaching a large audience for free. Politicians and local opinion leaders rely on such letters to get a read on what “real people” are thinking about an issue. Small newspapers are often looking to fill their pages with thoughtful commentaries. It is much easier and takes less effort to get a letter printed than to do a press conference or to get on television. Just remember, never use your letter to attack others personally. And remember that most news outlets have digital versions, so your letter will likely be available on-line.
Structuring Your Letter
Effective letters to the editor are under 250 words, simple and straightforward. Your letter is most likely to be printed if you live in the coverage area of the newspaper, if you email your letter to the paper (so they don’t have to retype it), and if it is relatively brief.
Here are some tips:
- Be sure you have a “hook” that explains why your letter is relevant. It’s best if you can relate your letter back to something that was recently printed in the paper, or something that relates to an important, recent, local news story.
- Get to the point. Make your point either in the first or second sentence of your letter. Be clear and direct.
- Offer supporting argument(s) to back up the point you’re trying to make. Try to highlight arguments that will be most persuasive to the audience you are trying to reach. It can be helpful to identify yourself as part of a group that elected officials care about: a business owner, person of faith, a hunter or angler, a long-time resident, a parent, a scientist.
- Provide your hometown and contact information. Newspapers normally publish the name of the letter writer and his or her hometown. They also confirm that a given person has written a letter before they publish it. Make it easy for editors by providing your hometown as well as telephone number or email address. Editors don’t normally publish telephone numbers or email addresses, but you can be sure by noting that it’s “for confirmation only.”
- Follow up. Call the newspaper when you think they have received your letter to verify it arrived. You can also ask at that time whether they plan to run it and if so, when. If they don’t plan to run it, ask them if you can edit it to make it something they would run.