LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (LTEs)
Why are they important?
- Newspapers print letters they consider newsworthy. Publication indicates to members of Congress (MOCs) and others that this is an important topic.
- The volume of letters submitted indicates the community’s level of interest. The more LTEs you submit, the more likely one will be published.
- Even in today’s digital world, our MOCs use LTEs to get a pulse of what’s happening in their district. MOCs review letters in their hometown papers every day, especially those that mention the MOC by name. Pro tip: mention your MOC to praise or request support.
- LTEs provide MTA visibility in the community and as a way to find new members.
What articles or opinion pieces should I respond to? Use this hierarchy:
- Editorials and front-page news
- Staff-written columns (i.e. by the newspaper’s own columnist)
- Locally-written op-ed
- Syndicated columnist
- Inside news stories
- Editorial cartoons
- Other letters to the editor.
How do I write a letter to the editor? Follow this formula:
To get a feel for what has been successful, review LTEs that have been published but generally
- Ask yourself—What is my message and how does it relate to the article that was in the paper recently?
- Reference the story or a specific part (line, thought, etc.) of the story. A short reference praising the writer or paper works well.
- Transition quickly into how it relates to money as speech or corporate constitutional rights.
- Propose a solution—the We the People Amendment, HJR54. This is the meat of your message.
- Present a call to action, e.g., write your MOC to support the WTP Amendment.
- Close creatively and with strength by employing a rhetorical device such as repetition, a play on words or closing the circle from the letter’s beginning.
Do’s and Don’t’s :
- Check the newspaper’s editorial page or website for directions and follow them. Some require you to use an online form for electronic submissions, others accept submissions by email. Find out the maximum number of words allowed and stay within this limit. LTEs are often 150-250 words in length.
- Timing is important. The sooner you submit a letter the more likely it will be published. Submit a LTE as early in the day as possible.
- Try to incorporate the use of metaphors and wit, but always be respectful and avoid negativity. Disagree without being disagreeable.
- Don’t raise hot button issues unnecessarily.
- Stay on point and don’t try to say too much. Only make one or two points in the LTE.
- Don’t lecture or regurgitate the facts. Write conversationally.
- Use dire warnings judiciously and ALWAYS couple warnings with a solution, The We the People Amendment, HJR 54.
- In the subject line of your email put “Re:(name of story and page#).” Letter editors will appreciate this time-saving practice.
- Not everyone should sign their letter as being a volunteer with MTA because editors tend to lump all letters from one organization together and therefore may only choose one.
- Newspapers often limit the number of letters by a single writer that they will publish over a certain time span.
I got published! Now what?
- Thank the letter editor.
- Notify MTA by emailing your letter to [email protected] with the date of publication and name of the newspaper.
- Send a copy of the letter to your MOC.
OPINION PIECES AND OP-ED’S
- The term “op-ed” means opposite the editorial, where opinion pieces are frequently found.
- Much of what has been said about LTEs also applies to op-eds, except they are longer, typically 650-850 words.
- Who can submit an op-ed? Who is getting published? Some newspapers require that the op-ed author have some expertise or experience re the op-ed topic. Research your paper’s policy.
- Has the paper covered your topic? Extensively? Recently? Does your piece express a new or different viewpoint? Research past editorials and op-eds.
- Why now? What makes your op-ed especially newsworthy now?
- Newspapers want to publish original op-eds submitted exclusively to them. Depending on the paper’s policy, it may be OK to submit them elsewhere several days after publication, if appropriately attributed.
- Don’t submit the same op-ed to many papers at the same time. Coordinate with your affiliate or others in your area to make sure ONLY ONE PERSON submits the op-ed to each paper. Also submit it beforehand to national MTA National [email protected] [Subject: ATTENTION: LETTER TO THE EDITOR/ OP-ED – CITY, STATE] to prevent double submissions.
- Sometimes MTA will provide you with a template op-ed. This means others throughout the country will also try to get it published. You must modify it so it’s different, e.g., by adding information about local conditions or issues or how the op-ed issue is particularly affecting your area.
*Much of the preceding material was borrowed from Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s “Writing Effective Letters to the Editor” (http://community.citizensclimatelobby.org/cclu/writing-effective-letters-to-the-editor/).
It has been edited and additional material added. Permission from CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds. MTA thanks CCL and Mr. Reynolds for their cooperation.