Write a Letter to the Editor of Your Local Paper
Why It Works
Congressional staffers and elected officials regularly read the op-ed sections of local newspapers. And they’re not alone: Op-ed sections are also one of the most-read parts of any paper—making Letters to the Editor (LTEs) an effective way to reach a large audience, including your lawmakers.
Even if your letter does not get published (boo!), you are still helping to educate the papers’ editors on these issues and increasing the chances that they will publish letters on this topic in the future (yay!).
How to Do It
Make your letter relevant to their paper! Editors are MUCH more likely to print letters that are responding directly to either breaking news or an article or commentary published in the previous two issues. The typical format is to open your letter with something like: “Re: your article ’Regulating Ourselves Out of Business?’ (national news, June 13)…”
Stay focused and BRIEF. Follow all the guidelines and word count limit of the target publication (usually 200 words or less). That means you really can’t try to address more than one issue in your letter—make one simple, pithy point and cut it off.
Play by their rules.
Do a ruthless edit before you submit. Remove every nonessential word. For example, don’t say, “I think…”—that’s obvious! Avoid using jargon or acronyms without first spelling them out. Cleaning up your language also minimizes the chance that the editor will make significant changes to your letter.
Just the facts, ma'am. Back up your argument using only verified facts. Take the time to check original sources rather than repeating a “fact” cited in another media outlet. Fake news is not your friend.
Don’t be afraid to make it about you, or your hometown. Explain how readers will be affected by the issue you address and don’t be afraid to share your own reaction, informed by your place in your local community, profession, age, gender, etc.
Make a call to action. Urge decision makers to do something specific. Including their names in the letter is a surefire way to catch their attention.
Don’t let your letter get lost in the shuffle. Put your letter right in the body of your email, as most papers do NOT accept attachments. If the paper does not include specific instructions about what to include in your subject line, something like “Letter re: HEADLINE OF ARTICLE YOU ARE RESPONDING TO” is a good default option. And you MUST include your contact information, including a phone number where you can be reached.
Follow up if your letter gets printed. If your letter does make it into print, send a clip of it to your elected officials to make sure they’re aware of it—this can be particularly helpful if you’ve had trouble getting them to agree to a meeting. And please let us know your good news, too! Email us the link or a scanned copy of your printed letter at email@example.com.