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One of the ongoing difficulties suffered by the progressives nationally has been getting our message out. The progressive message and the accomplishments of the movement have been overwhelmed by the conservative message machine. While conservatives control a majority of traditional mass media outlets most of them recognize that they can’t swing too far to the right for fear of losing subscribers/listeners etc. We have an opportunity and an obligation to change the conversation by making our views and values known to the public. The way that the grassroots can accomplish this for little or no money is through ongoing efforts like a letters to the editor committee.

To give you an idea about what can be accomplished by a small group I offer the following example: in a small area within Texas involving just suburban/rural Comal and Guadalupe counties there is a letters to the editor group consisting of about 8 individuals who have collectively written over 200 letters to the editor in 2010 and 2011. That same group has been published over 160 times. The group members submit their letters to two small city daily papers, two small weeklies and one major metro daily. On occasion they have swept the letters to the editor page and have also had the same letter published in as many as four newspapers in the same week. None of these people have ever written for a living. If they can do it then so can others. We cannot expect to change the conversation in this nation without organizing and encouraging groups like this everywhere.
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A letter to the editor is an effective method of delivering the progressive message and an excellent vehicle for rapid response. Letters to the Editor are the cheapest resource for progressives to communicate their positions – they provide opportunity to put a local name and opinion on state races and issues. Every letter endorsing a candidate is a free advertisement, and conveys more impact than any purchased publication. Outside of election cycles, letters may support or oppose pending legislation, refute letters from conservatives, and personalize national issues. Letters-to-the-Editor sections in newspapers are widely read and reacted to and office holders keep tabs on them to gauge public sentiment. Everyone is qualified to write to their local paper and may be published.

Letter-to-the-Editor Committee – the team can set the tone on the editorial page by populating it with letters that speak favorably of progressive ideas, principles, and local candidates. The teams should also write letters in support of/in opposition to a paper’s articles, actions taken by conservatives.

Emphasize both quality and quantity, an issue becomes attractive to the media if many people suddenly write into the paper about it. Keep in mind that a paper may not publish poorly written letters and even if they do, well written letters make a better impression on the readers who after all are the target.

Organizing a successful committee

•    Choose a means of sharing with the entire group – Yahoo or Google Newsgroup to insure that all letters will be read by members of the group whether published or not and all members have an opportunity to congratulate on a well written letter and cheer when one is published.
•    One or two members to track publishing success by checking the newspaper(s) daily and point out letters and articles that the group can respond to
(they need not be letter writers – though they probably will be)
•    Select a method of archiving letters to the editor – Blogspot or Wordpress account
(this gives you the opportunity to link to the letter from your Facebook account as well)
•    Results of LTE campaign should be reported on the newsgroup regularly, number of letters written vs number published.
•    A member of the group with the skills and time should offer to assist less skilled writers.

Getting published

•    Strictly adhere to the rules (word count) of the newspaper you wish to be published in. Understand the paper’s rules regarding timeliness, and exclusivity.
•    Use proper grammar and check your spelling, after all given the choice between a well written letter and one that is not, which would you publish?
•    Letters on hot topics are more likely to be published
•    Timely – Editorials that reference a story are most favorably received if submitted within three days of the story’s printing.
•    Letters responding to other recent letters or articles are more likely to be published. An explicit reference by the writer to a previous story is often posted at the beginning of the letter.
•    Coordinating amongst the team to submit several letters on the same topic within a day or two raises the probability of one getting published as it will appear that there is broad interest in the topic.
•    Concise – The editorial writer must familiarize himself/herself with the paper’s word count (usually 200-250), and never overshoot it. The letter must focus upon ONE issue.
•    Clarity - It’s tempting to use acronyms like FBI and IRS but it’s usually better to spell out the agency name so you don’t come off like a snob and more importantly your audience understands the agency you’re talking about.
•    Localized and Personalized – Letters to the editor are the paper’s most personalized publications. In this section, even national issues may be approached with a local angle. Use of personal pronouns (I, my) and local place names are encouraged. A personal story trumps a list of facts.
•    Grammar and Tone – Proofread all letters previous to submission, and avoid personal attacks.
•    Smart and Witty – Citation of facts does add credibility. Factual statements posed cleverly increase the likelihood of publication.
•    Stick to the Facts: Be prepared. Make your case with solid information and facts. Use your talking points or newspaper stories you’ve clipped or pulled from the Internet as a background resource or primer for letters and columns.
•    Use Examples: Examples of Democratic issues are the $3,000 teacher pay raise and state health insurance plan for teachers, health care coverage for 600,000 uninsured children, and a prescription drug assistance program for seniors. Examples of failed Republican leadership are the insurance crisis and poor fiscal management that allowed a record state budget surplus to become a record state deficit.
•    Writing Guide: A good letter to the editor is like a three-act play. Set the stage in your first paragraph. Then lay out the evidence to support your point in a clear and concise manner. Finally, make your point based on the information you have outlined:
•    Write Tight: Keep it economical—two to four paragraphs with one or two sentences per paragraph. Explain your inspiration for writing the letter or column then make your point. Don’t worry about winning the Pulitzer Prize. Simply write the way you talk.
•    Stay on message: Don’t get sidetracked. Stick to your central message and theme.
•    Be Confident: Write it with pride, but don’t let your emotions distract from your point.
•    Be Cool: Even though you might not agree, respect the rights of others to express their opinions.
•    Most newspapers have limits on how frequently they will publish a single writer, it is helpful if writers can find family members in whose name letters can be submitted.
•    Contact Information – most papers require verification of the letter’s author before printing.
•    Ghostwriting for a family member is a tried and true strategy for increasing the probability of getting published frequently. Never use a completely false name as if you’re discovered the newspaper may very well stop publishing all letters from you. At least the first time you’re published by that paper you’re apt to receive a phone call confirming your identity and willingness to be published.
•    If there are multiple newspapers in your vicinity even if not in your town send your letters to the editor to all of them, you’d be surprised at how likely it is for a well written letter to be published in multiple papers.
•    Be on the lookout for an email from the editor asking your permission to print your letter and respond promptly

Originally posted to JC Dufresne on Sun Jan 08, 2012 at 08:50 AM PST.

Also republished by Dream Menders, Occupy Wall Street, J Town, ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, and Progressive Hippie.


Do you write letters to the editor?

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50%11 votes
13%3 votes
27%6 votes

| 22 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'm in the SA area and know how effective (9+ / 0-)

    this group has been. I am delighted to have the "brains" of the operation post here to inspire kossaks everywhere to help "Occupy" their local newspapers.

    The comments sections tend to be overrun (at least in this area...and even in online outlets) by trolls and armies of Limbots.

    LTEs tend to more thoughtful presentation and given more consideration by readers that are perhaps don't have the time on their hands to troll the comment sections of the online papers. People more likely to be swayed by a good arguement, or real non-foxified facts.

    Every paper in the country should have a dedicated team on our side, setting the record straight (start poking holes in the Fox "News" bubble of misinformation). Even Fox fans still may sit down with a morning paper and cup of coffee - and getting LTEs published can help reframe the conversation.

    "one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress" -- John Adams

    by blue armadillo on Sun Jan 08, 2012 at 09:07:52 AM PST

  •  This is a great idea. (9+ / 0-)

    Check out this web site (Winning Progressive) for their letter writing campaigns.

    They have links to newspapers in a number of states and some tips.

    Republished in the J Town Babbling Brook

    Burble Burble

  •  um...morning typos...blame keyboard .. or lack of (5+ / 0-)

    morning caffiene. ;-) Normally I can put a sentence together properly in english....

    "one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress" -- John Adams

    by blue armadillo on Sun Jan 08, 2012 at 09:10:02 AM PST

  •  Thank you (8+ / 0-)

    great lesson and action diary.

    The "news"papers have been bought and sold just like every type of media in this country.  Just one of the corporations that truly own the Land of the "Free".

    You can no longer read the comment section of most online news articles due to the American Taliban type posts.  Sometimes I wonder if there isn't some boiler room out of 8 people who are furiously banging away at their keyboards making all those horrible comments....

    But I will not let the "media" make me believe that there is more hate than love.  

    As you said, we just need to find a way to get our voices out there.  It's just easier for a message of hate and fear to spread like fire than it is for a thoughtful, sometimes complex post.  

    Critical thought:  It is a dying trait.

    Great diary!  I think we should Occupy the Media.  All forms of it.  

    "When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace." ~Jimi Hendrix

    by Damnit Janet on Sun Jan 08, 2012 at 09:10:36 AM PST

    •  get a group together in your area... (3+ / 0-)

      with the google and yahoo group capability, even a "virtual" team can be set up!

      JC and the team have been nothing short of spectacular in their efforts and they are paying off. I am hoping to get a small group organized over here on my side of SA...I can only dream of having the same success but we are sure going to try. This is teabagger central in these parts (ugh.) so having some rational letters in the paper will be a huge success. I think there really are more sane people out there than we realize, they are just still too quiet and don't have time to delve into any topic in depth. Even my own ex-spouse thinks that just because something hasn't shown up on PBS Newshour, it must not be important.  I think people that still read papers are the kind that will peruse the LTE page...and therein lies our opportunity to ensure OUR side of the story is presented.

      "one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress" -- John Adams

      by blue armadillo on Sun Jan 08, 2012 at 10:01:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I still think too many people underestimate the (7+ / 0-)

    affect of a good letter to the editor.

    I know lots of of folks who might even skip the main articles of a paper just to read the LTE's. They can be the most eye-opening and informational part of the paper, especially in the local news.

    Thanks for this great piece. I will hotlist to share with others again and again! It's a message that bears repeating!

    •  I think our local newspaper, which is surely in (3+ / 0-)

      hospice mode, actually tried to stimulate some issues in their LTE section in order to boost readership.  I entered the fray when I could no longer abide the unchallenged rightwing yakking points being spun over and over again by a prominent local citizen who likely was writing whatever he just heard on Fox.  But no one came after me unfortunately, so we couldn't keep any dialog going.

      Occupying the newspapers is important.  Hand-delivered door-to-door tracts might be effective too, even anonymous ones because they smack of espionage and other things that excite people's minds.  Years ago we had a mayoral election that operated in this way which stimulated a large turnout.

    •  ah - angelajean is on the case! yay! (4+ / 0-)

      I was going to ping you with this one - I saw JC at a meeting yesterday and encouraged him to write about organizing a successful LTE team since that group has been doing such an outstanding job. Glad to see you are up and on it already! I know you've got a pretty good network online (...and... your gentle arm twisting skills are not diminished by your physical location either! LOL! You've got a loooooong reach via the internets my friend! :D)

      Loved the trip pics btw. extremely jealous. :P

      "one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress" -- John Adams

      by blue armadillo on Sun Jan 08, 2012 at 10:03:55 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm A Strong Believer in LTEs. (3+ / 0-) used to have a wonderful way to access newspapers and other media throughout the United States.
      You entered the zip code you wanted (which could be easily obtained from other pages on the site) and the web page produced all the newspapers and media for a hundred miles around.  It allowed you to write a LTE on the site, then send it to the five media sites you checked. By saving your LTE, you could then choose 5 more sites and re-send your letter, ad infinitum.

      While I very much doubt all the news sites I chose ever published my letters, I'm sure some, desperate for copy, did, and it cost me nothing but a few minutes time.

      Then, about 3 years ago, I discovered that had dismantled their wonderful LTE service.  It's now gone. But it would be great if the techno-geeks active in OWS could re-create that LTE site, so we could easily deluge local newspapers with our views.

      Local people read local LTE letters, some religiously, and our letters might really make them think.

      Convict Bush, Cheney and their torture cabal. Support universal health care,unions, WikiLeaks and Occupy Wall Street! Time for a totally new, democratic economic system. Turn the corporations into worker cooperatives!

      by Justina on Sun Jan 08, 2012 at 04:11:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Rec this up! And remember: (4+ / 0-)

    Many towns have local weekly papers (you've probably seen them at supermarkets) that practically beg to fill up space.  A reporter or freelancer has a lot easier time getting printed in one of these than in a larger city paper.  I imagine that one could even volunteer to write a story for free and get published.

    Don't knock this. A local foreclosure or local police beating is local news, and can be tied into the "part of the national wave of tragedies" angle.  If several of these get published in the smaller periodicals, the larger ones see a story they can use.

    Proof that this works:  it was the heart of the the "media resonance" strategy Gingrich used to bring down Speaker Jim Wright and ascend to the Speakership himself.  Gingrich started a campaign on meeting with local papers' editorial boards across the country to flog a bogus corruption story about Wright, these meetings produced stories that e then collected and used to accuse the national media of ignoring a major story.  It worked.

    If Gingrich could do it with a lie, reformer can do it with the truth.

    Check out your local papers, find out who covers housing or who the assignment editor and give them the alert.

    Check out the following for good ideas on how to approach papers. Keep in mind it was written pre-internet, and adapt accordingly:

    Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits, By Jason Salzman.  This is a great guide to the kind of activism that makes the mainstream media, something we have to do in order to be a visible presence.  Our champions will be more likely to support us if we get the kind of coverage the Tea Party gets.  Funny and effective.

    Politics is the entertainment branch of industry. -Frank Zappa

    by TheGrandWazoo on Sun Jan 08, 2012 at 11:52:29 AM PST

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