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.
• 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