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How to Get Letters to the Editor Printed in Your Local Newspaper

MoveOn makes it easy to ask your petition signers to submit letters using our nifty letter to the editor tool. Just go to your Dashboard and click “create an email.” Then look for the “Advanced tools” section and choose “Insert link for letters to the editor.”

The Basics of Letters to the Editor

A really great way to get our message out is by getting letters to the editor printed in the local paper (sometimes we call them “LTEs” for short). Letters to the editor are great tactics because you can often get a more specific message out about a member’s voting record or position on issues than you could get otherwise in the paper. Members of Congress in particular pay attention to the letters to the editor page and notice when they are being criticized or applauded.

A typical LTE is 150-200 words in length, though your local paper may have specific length requirements. Generally speaking, the shorter the letter, the better chance it has of being printed.

Papers often like to have a diversity of opinions on their letters page, so remember that just because a paper leans conservative (or liberal) doesn’t necessarily affect whether they print your letter. Anyone can get a letter to the editor printed, though many papers will only take letters from their immediate readership area. Local individuals with a particular credential (like a small business owner or local elected official) often have an easier time getting their letters printed also.

The ideal outcome is to have a series of letters to the editor from different people, some VIPs and some average citizens, printed in a number of different papers over time. That way you create a real drumbeat of grassroots pressure.

Step-by-Step: How to Get a Letter to the Editor Printed

1. Look for recent relevant news stories to respond to
Although it’s definitely not required, you may have a better chance of getting your letter printed if you are replying directly to a local story in the paper. These responses are only considered timely for a day or two though, so don’t go looking in the paper’s archives. For example, relevant coverage you could reply to if you were working on health care might be a story about recent job losses in the area or rising health care costs.

2. Write your LTE or create sample message points to give to your petition signers so they can write letters
Keys for effective letters to the editor are that they are short (no more than 250 words, better under 200), locally relevant, linked to some timely or current event, and includes our concrete political ask (i.e., “Representative X should support XXX bill.”).

Give your signers two to three message points to help them write their letters.

3. Submit the LTE
Usually it’s best to email your letter. Be sure to include your phone number and local address as well.

Ask your petition signers to submit their letters using MoveOn’s letters to the editor webpage. Just look for the “Advanced tools” section of the email tool, then choose “Insert link for letters to the editor.”

You can also use a site like this to submit your letter: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/media/.

4. Call to follow up
This is the most important part. You can write the most brilliant LTE ever, and it’s very unlikely to be printed unless you call and make a compelling pitch to get it printed! A good follow up call will stress that the LTE is timely, local, and interesting to local readers. Be sure to ask very directly whether they plan to print it or not, because if the answer is no you’ll want to be able to pitch it to another paper in the district.

Tips for a great follow-up call:

  1. Stress the local relevance and timeliness of your letter.
  2. Be persistent but friendly.
  3. Be sure to ask if they’re busy, and if they say yes, respect their time and call back when they say they’re available to talk.
  4. Ask very directly if they plan to print it, and if they say no ask if there’s a way you can revise it to make it more useful. Often, that means shortening it.

5. Once it’s printed, get a copy of the clipping
If and when your LTEs are printed, be sure to get copies and share it with your organizer, regional coordinator, and other members of your council.

Example script for following up on a letter to the editor

Letter-writer: Hello, is this _______.

Letters editor: Yes.

Letter-writer: Hi. My name is _________, and I’m the owner of [business name]. I’m calling to follow up on a letter to the editor that I submitted. Do you have a moment to speak now?

Letters editor: Sure.

Letter-writer: Great. The letter is about why President Obama’s Clean Energy Jobs bill would be great for us here in [city/state]. The bill is being debated on in Congress right now and would create hundreds of new, high-paying jobs in the area, and with the economy the way it is, we could really use it.

Letters editor: Ok, sounds good.

Letter-writer: Great. Do you think you’ll have space to print it this week?

Letters editor: Well space is always very tight, but it sounds very interesting. I will have a look at it, and if we can use it, we’ll call you.

Letter-writer: Great. Thanks for considering it.

Letters editor: You’re welcome.

Letter-writer: Good bye.

Example Letter to the Editor

To the Editor,

With all the bad news we’re seeing every day about the economy (optional, you can cite a recent story), it’s about time we get some good news.

Good news might be on the way, but only if Representative _______________ stands up to the big oil and coal companies and supports President Obama’s clean energy jobs plan, which is coming up for a vote in Congress right now.

Clean energy sources like wind and solar power create two or three times more jobs than fossil fuels. The great thing is that these are high-paying jobs that can never be shipped overseas.

By increasing our energy efficiency we can save money on our electric bills and at the gas pump, which boosts the economy and consumer spending like a tax cut.

That’s what President Obama’s clean energy jobs plan is all about, but if the coal and oil companies have their way, it’ll never pass, and we’ll stay hooked on oil and coal forever. I hope Rep. _______________ will stand with the people of [state/city] and vote for the clean energy jobs bill.