Contacting Change Makers (Print Media)
Letters to the Editor, Op-Eds and Influencing Editorial Boards
As we seek to ChangeTheStory, it is impossible to do so without engaging the media. Indeed, the media’s influence is pervasive in our society: one sixth of all jobs in the U.S. are media related, the average adult spends 6.1 hours/day engaged with media (television, radio, the internet, newspapers, magazines or listening to music); 79% of all adults in the U.S. are on-line with 55% having high speed access. Fifty-seven percent of American teens create content for the web; 31 billion e-mails are sent each day and Facebook, at last count, had 65 billion page views per month.
So, when we consider moving beyond dialogue to action, it is essential to use the media as an integral part of an advocacy strategy.
Why is using the Media an effective advocacy tool?
Think of the media as an opportunity to educate people in your community about the issues you care about and experience firsthand. Local media forums, such as newspapers, radio, or TV cable-access programs, reach many people and are very significant in shaping opinions. Blogs and social marketing create viral networks that can be used effectively in advocacy strategies. People learn from and listen to people they know – people from their communities. So you can be a powerful advocate right where you are!
What Are The Tools Available To Me In The Media?
- A Letter to the Editor is a letter sent to a publication about issues of concern to its readers, frequently in response to a previous article or letter. Usually, letters are no more than 250 words and intended for publication.
- An Op-ed is a piece of writing expressing an opinion. The name originated from the tradition of newspapers placing such materials on the page opposite to the editorial page. The term "op-ed" is derived from combining the words "opposite" and "editorial."
- An Editorial is an opinion piece written by the newspaper editorial staff that articulates the official position of the paper. What many advocates do not know is that reaching out to editorial staff in order to influence their position is a widely accepted and encouraged practice.
How do I write a Letter to the Editor?
Letters to the Editor are an excellent way to expand on an article or respond with another viewpoint. The letters section is one of the most widely read pages of the paper.
Find out your newspaper’s requirements for submitting a letter and the contact information for the letters editor. Usually this is available on the editorial page itself or on the newspaper’s masthead. Often you will need to sign your letter and provide your address and phone number.
To improve the chances of having your letter published, submit it as soon as possible – within twenty-four hours if you can and no more than three days after the article you are responding to appears.
Increasingly, e-mail has become the most common way to submit letters to the editor which reduces the time lag between your letter and the original article, but check with your paper regarding proper format.
Refer to the article you are addressing by title and the date it appeared.
Stick to one point. Keep your letter short (usually 250 words or less, but find out from your newspaper).
Use sound reasoning, facts, and firsthand experience.
How do I write an Op-Ed?
Op-Eds are different from letters to the editor in that they are not necessarily related to a specific article and are crafted like an essay to make a singular case while offering more than one point.
- Find the contact information of the Op-Ed editor.
- Choose a current topic or “news peg” on which to hang your opinion.
- Express your point of view clearly and boldly in the first paragraph. Use an engaging, compelling or surprising “lead” (the opening sentence) to pique the reader’s interest.
- Use simple, short sentences and paragraphs. Avoid jargon.
- Include at least one memorable phrase for use as a pull out quote.
- Close on a strong note. A short, powerful, last paragraph should drive your point home.
- Make it personal and provide accurate information.
- Think of images or ways to make your message powerful and concrete. Stories and personal experiences are often very persuasive. Create a picture in the reader’s mind.
How do I influence Editorials?
Editorial staffs are very careful about developing their opinions, so in order to influence them, it is useful to make contact and form a relationship with them in the early stages the opinion-forming process.
- Do some research into the particular editorial slant of this editorial writer or staff.
- Develop a clear, concise message. Put together a convincing, reasoned case, not just righteous zeal.
- Find out from the newspaper who on the editorial board to contact about your issue.
Once you know who to contact and what you want to say, there are several ways to reach an editorial staff:
- Pitch letter: It is always safe to send a letter that introduces yourself and your organization and outlines your position. If you have one, it can be a good idea to include a position paper on your topic with your letter.
- Conference calls: An easy way to reach several editorial writers at once is to host a conference call with policy experts offering a group briefing.
- Editorial meetings: If you are working with an issue that is unusually timely, dramatic, or contentious, and warrants serious discussion, you can set up a face to face meeting with the paper’s editorial board.
Be polite and respectful, but firm in offering your position. Remember that the press is not looking to have an adversarial relationship with the people they serve. These are their customers, so they will want to know what you and those you represent feel about a given issue. You may not change an editorial policy 100%, but a compelling case could bring a heretofore silent issue to light or create a small but important shift in news coverage or editorial policy that helps you to ChangeTheStory about the relationships in your community across faith and cultural lines.
Adapted from the Coalition on Human Needs Media Outreach and Field Organizing