Laser Talk: Generating an Editorial on U.S. Poverty

Call a Local Editorial Writer to "Pitch" an Editorial on New Poverty Data

Below is a sample conversation with a newspaper editorial writer urging him/her to write an editorial about recently released poverty data from the U.S. Census. Before calling a writer to make your "pitch," you'll want to do the following things before you make that call:

  1. Have your information handy. You want to have the poverty data and any other statistics you’d like the writer to consider, along with their sources, at your fingertips during your call. Writers will ask questions so you’ll want to have info available if you need it.
  2. If you don’t know who the editorial writer is you need to contact, call the paper, ask for the editorial desk and ask for the name, phone number, and e-mail of the person who writes about issues of poverty.
  3. Before you call, send an e-mail with information and data you plan to discuss and a brief note that you’ll be calling later that day. That way the writer will have some information in front of him/her when you call and will also know who you are. Then in a few hours, make the call.

Sample Conversation with the Editorial Writer

Volunteer: Hello, may I please speak to Blair Hinderliter?

Editorial page receptionist: Hold please.

Writer: Good morning. This is Blair Hinderliter.

Volunteer: Good morning, Blair. My name is Jos Linn and I am a volunteer with RESULTS. I e-mailed you some information earlier this morning about new poverty data from the U.S. Census and noted that I would follow it up with a phone call. I am hoping you’ll write an editorial about this issue. Do you have a few minutes to talk?

Writer: Sure, go ahead.

Volunteer: Perhaps you know that the U.S. Census just released its annual poverty data report for 2011. Have you seen the report?

Writer: No, I haven’t.         

Volunteer: Well, it has some pretty sobering news. The report shows that 15 percent of Americans or 46.2 million people lived in poverty in the U.S. in 2011. That’s nearly 1 in every 6 Americans. More troubling is the fact that 1 in 5 of all children in the U.S. now live in poverty (21.9 percent). Thankfully these rates did not increase between 2010 and 2011, however they are still alarmingly high. Other data from the report shows that median household income dropped by 1.5 percent to $50,054 per year and that the number of uninsured dropped from 50 million to 48.6 million (16.3 percent to 15.7 percent). The latter decrease is attributed to portions of the Affordable Care Act going into full effect (e.g. allowing young adults to get health insurance via their parents' coverage) as well as increases in the number of people getting coverage through Medicaid, Medicare, and CHIP.

Unfortunately, despite these statistics, Congress wants take steps that will result in more poverty. The House budget, i.e. the Ryan Budget, would slash services for low-income Americans. Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start, child care, and a host of other services would see dramatic cuts under the House plan resulting is dramatic increases in poverty. In addition, recent improvements to tax credits for working families will expire this year, putting more families at risk of poverty. Are you familiar with the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit?

Writer: Yes, at least I know what they are but I don’t know a lot of details about them.

Volunteer: These are tax credits that are specifically focused on working families with low to moderate incomes. We’re not talking hedge fund managers or Wall Street CEOs — these credits go to teachers, firemen, police offices, janitors, child care workers, and military families, and countless other hard-working Americans. They’re also targeted, with the vast majority of benefits going to families with children. But the best thing about them is that they work. Because you need to have a job to get them, they are credited with increasing employment. Plus, in 2011, the EITC lifted 5.6 million people out of poverty, including 3 million children (we're still waiting on 2011 statistics for the CTC). In 2010, the EITC and CTC combined lifted 9.2 million people out of poverty. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, recent improvements to the EITC and Child Tax Credit will expire at the end of this year; you can imagine the impact of letting them expire will have on working families.

Writer: Where did you get those stats?

Volunteer: They come from the Census data and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan think-tank that focuses on federal budget issues. You can find them in the information I sent.

Writer: So, what is the position you’re wanting us to consider?

Volunteer: I know that your paper takes a more centrist position on politics and the budget, poverty is an issue that everyone should care about. Poverty impacts all of us and we shouldn’t have to go through another presidential campaign without a serious discussion about it. The Census release is the perfect opportunity to raise the issue. So I’m hoping you will write a piece highlighting the Census report and reminding readers that the poverty in America will not be solved by ignoring it, and certainly not by making it worse through draconian budget cuts. Instead, this data reinforces the notion that we need to protect the social safety net and strengthen it with solutions that work, like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. And a great first step and call to action would be for our representatives and senators to make the expiring improvements to these credits permanent. Does that make sense?

Writer: What does the Census data say about poverty in our state?

Volunteer: The data released today does have some state data. It shows that here in Pennsylvania, the poverty rate was 12.6 percent in 2011, or about 1.6 million people. The poverty rate for children was 17.5 percent, or about 468,000 children. More comprehensive state data will be released on September 20. I am happy to send that to you when it comes out. Will that work?

Writer: Yes.

Volunteer: So may I ask, would you be willing to write an editorial on this?

Writer: I can’t commit to writing anything at this point. We have a process for approving editorial topics and this would need to go through that process just like everything else. However, I will look at the data more closely and then talk to my colleagues and my editor.

Volunteer: That’s great. I very much appreciate it. May I follow up with you in a few days after you’ve had time to look over the information and talk to your colleagues?

Writer: Sure, that’s fine. Things are crazy around here so give me at least 3 days.

Volunteer: OK, how about I give you a call this Friday at 9:30am?

Writer: That works. I’ll talk to you then.

Volunteer: Thank you so much, Blair. I appreciate your time and consideration and I’ll talk to you on Friday.

Writer: Thank you.

Find more helpful tips on generating editorials in our Activist Toolkit: Generate an Editorial in Your Local Paper.