Facts and Tips on Writing letters to the Editor

(The following is from a handout received at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Corvallis."

Why Write?

bullet

Writing a letters to the editor is an effective and easy way for individuals to influence public opinion and debate on an issue.

bullet

The Letters section is the most widely read part of the paper .

bullet

The letters are read by Congress persons and others as a way to gauge opinion.

bullet

Even unpublished letters are important internally to the paper.  Newsroom people read the unpublished as well as the published letters.

bullet

Editors feel obliged to publish letters on a subject when there are many letters on the same subject. So your unpublished letter will influence what does get published.

bullet

It feels good and is better for you to do something about what troubles you than to just worry or complain to a few people about it.

Tips on writing.

bullet

The most important thing in getting a letter published is to write the letter.  If you don't write it, the letter won't get published. The more often you write, the better.

bullet

Wherever possible connect your letter to something in the paper -- a news story, an editorial, or an op ed piece.  Papers feel obligated to correct errors, to be complete in their coverage, and to be balanced.  Refer to the item by the title and the date it appeared.

bullet

Summarize what you are referring to in the first sentence or so.

bullet

Write the letter right away.  If possible do it the same day an item appears that you are commenting on.

bullet

Keep it short and focused. You only have space for one big point. The Oregonian has a limit of 150 words. They will only rarely go over that.

bullet

Support the letter with facts.

bullet

Mention your occupation or experience if it is relevant, "As a health care worker....", "As a veteran..."

bullet

State your point early in the letter and again at the end (if that works).

bullet

Put your name, address and phone number at the bottom or top of the letter. Papers will call to verify that you are a real person.

bullet

Give a title to the letter. They may not choose to use it, but they might and it will influence them.

bullet

If the letter is about something in the paper, send it to several places in the paper -the writer, the editor, the public editor, and the letters section.

bullet

A special hook, twist, or humor will get your letter chosen over other letters on the samesubject.

bullet

Consider sending the same letter to other papers in the state if it is a state issue, or to national papers such as the New York Times if it is a national issue. Contact information for Oregon's newspapers can be obtained at:
http://www.friends.org/issues/M37/LTE-guide.html.

bullet

If relevant, suggest some action that the readers can take/

bullet

Read the published letters to get an idea of what sort of thing gets published.

Addresses.

bullet

Oregonian: letters@news.oregonian.com

bullet

New York Times: letters@nY1imes.com

Websites with more suggestions.

bullet

Unitarian Universalist Washington Office for advocacy:
http://www.uua.org/uuawo/new/article.php?id=58

bullet

Fairness and accuracy in reporting (FAIR):
http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=122  

Media to call.

Don't neglect to call or write local or national broadcast media if they distort or omit something you think is important. NPR reads letters on the air and some other stations do too. Here are a couple comment lines:

bullet

CBS: 1 212 456-1111

bullet

CNN: 1 212 275-7800

Back