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Are Letters to the Editor Still Important?

June 24, 2016

When advising schools on how to garner support for a campaign, we often include a bullet point that advises to encourage letters to the editor. Yes, even in this age of memes and Tweets and email newsletters, a letter to the editor is still an important tool to establish and grow support.

Why are Letters to the Editor relevant?

• Politicians and community leaders use letters to the editor as a gauge of community opinion.

• A letter to the editor will put a name to an issue and make it more personal.

• The length of a letter to the editor — typically around 150 words — allows you to expound on the finer points of a campaign or opinion, especially when compared to the 140-character limit of a tweet.

• A letter to the editor encourages your local paper to write more about a particular topic because you’ve demonstrated community interest.

Tips for Getting Your Letter Published

• Seek out guidelines in your paper or online for what format your local paper prefers and take care to follow any instructions, especially in delivery and length.

• Newspapers put priority on letters from those located within their readership area. Make sure to always include your town of residence and telephone number as well as your email.

• Of course, avoid using profanity or harsh language. Even on hot topic issues, newspapers will refrain from publishing letters that can be construed as inflammatory.

• If your newspaper has published articles about the topic you are writing about, make sure to reference them! By acknowledging the reporter who covered the topic, you are reenforcing your interest in the subject and assuring the newspaper that you are following the story closely and value their work.

• Newspapers tend to want a variety of opinions on their letters page. Don’t worry if you are expressing sentiments that are the opposite of what the newspaper editors have written. Newspapers are under pressure to present all sides to a story and using your letter will allow them to balance the bias.

• Newspapers also like to publish a balance of letters from both people within the story and average citizens that can offer a voter’s or onlooker’s viewpoint. Encourage anyone that is on your side to write — and even consider creating a calendar and asking for volunteers to ensure that your story remains a priority for the newspaper.

Don’t Stop There

Whether your letter is published or not, make sure to forward it to other interested parties. They will want to know that you feel strongly enough about the issue to take the time to write in it. Include permission in your forwarding message for the organization to include your letter in their own publications and don’t forget to include your date of submission to the newspaper and your contact information.

Posted in Campaigns, Community Outreach
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