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Working with the Media: Activist Milestone #1
Write a Letter to the Editor and Send Your Published Letter to Your Member of Congress
Letters to the editor are quick to write, relatively easy to have published, and appear in the most widely read section of the paper, the editorial page. Politicians and government agencies routinely clip and circulate letters to the editor as an indicator of what is important to their constituents.
You enhance your chance of getting a letter published if your thoughts and ideas add some new angle or element to the public debate on a story or issue.
Tips on Generating a Letter to the Editor - Remember Your C's
Be Current - Responding to a recent article in the newspaper or a recent event is a great way to increase your odds of being published.
Constructing Your Letter
Be Clear and Concise - Most papers will not print letters that are more than 200-250 words. Some papers limit them to 150 words. The shorter the letter, the more likely it will be published. Stick to one subject and check your grammar. After you have written your letter, read it aloud (this really works). Ask yourself: Is my point clear? Is my letter compelling? Can I shorten it and still get my point across? See our Media Hooks and Framing page for tips on how to word your letter.
Connect the Dots - Connect the dots between your community and our national and international poverty issues. For example, use local stories on schools to talk about global education, mention the local food bank to talk about the need for nutrition assistance programs, or link local economic stimulus stories to microcredit or individual development accounts. Be creative.
Be Challenging - Feel free to question what others have said or done, and even start your letter off with a feisty first sentence. However, be sure to avoid personal attacks. An argument based on merit rather than emotional attacks is respectful and more persuasive
If appropriate, mention members of Congress by name - If you are thanking a member of Congress for something or respectfully challenging his/her position in your letter, mention him/her by name. Many congressional offices do internet searches by name each morning. This increases the chance your member of Congress will see your letter.
Call to Action - Remember to end your letter by asking for action from your members of Congress or from your readers. Articulate your passion for the issue; ask them to make a difference.
Include Your Contact information - Include your name, address, e-mail, and a daytime and evening phone number with your submission to the paper. They won't print this information, but may use it to confirm that you wrote the letter.
Be Contagious - Maximize your efforts by sending your letter to newspapers all over the country if you are writing on an issue that is being covered widely. Note: When submitting letters to the Washington Post or the New York Times, do not send it to other papers until you are sure they will not print it.
Coordinate Your Efforts - Have as many people in your group send in letters to the editor at the same time to maximize your odds of getting published and to emphasize the importance of the issue. Whether they print your letters or not, you are letting the paper know what issues the community cares about.
If Your Letter is Published, Send a Copy to Your Congressional Offices
Also, help us track RESULTS successes! Please send a copy of your letter (hard copy or scan if possible) to Meredith Dodson (Domestic) at email@example.com or Ken Patterson (Global) at firstname.lastname@example.org as well as to Colin Smith at email@example.com. Share it with the rest of the RESULTS community via the listserv, so we can congratulate you and benefit from your inspiration!
Sample Letter to the Editor
SCHIP veto incomprehensible
The president's veto of the State Children's Health Insurance Program is incomprehensible.
There are 9 million children in our country who do not have health insurance coverage. Covering kids is a smart investment. It saves money and helps kids do better in school.
I applaud Sen. Orrin Hatch and Congressman Jim Matheson for their vote last week to cover 3.8 million uninsured children. The annual cost of this is what we spend in Iraq in 41 days! The State Children's Health Insurance Program has been bipartisan and has helped cut the number of uninsured children by a third over the past 10 years.
Our members of Congress will have another chance to vote in a veto-override. I hope the rest of our delegation will change their votes.
Scott A. Leckman