Jessica previously wrote about the City of Portland’s bike parking fund.
In the article below, she offers insights on how to write effective letters-to-the-editor, and more importantly, how get them published.
Effective Writing 101
I know this may shock you, but I don’t get all my news from BikePortland.
“If you’re not writing letters, you’re letting the bad guys have the last word.”
In fact, I’m one of those people who reads the paper every morning. There are plenty of other folks who read the daily paper as well, and research tells us that they’re relatively well-educated, well-informed, and likely to participate in elections and public process.
In fact, these are exactly the people we need to get on our side.
After the front page, the opinion section is one of the most-read sections of the paper. This is great news because it’s not difficult to write a letter to the editor that has a good chance of being published. Every bike-friendly letter to the editor sends a message that bicyclists are educated and paying attention, and that Portland cares about bike issues.
Besides, anti-bike letters get published all the time, so if you’re not writing letters, you’re letting the bad guys have the last word.
I love writing letters to the editor. You have the chance to craft the perfect appeal to your neighbor, your boss, that guy who didn’t look for you at the stop sign yesterday. It’s one of the best tools bicycle advocates have to quit talking to ourselves and reach all those Portlanders who aren’t bicyclists (yet).
Over the years I’ve learned a few tips that make it more likely for a letter to get published.
- Don’t delay
- Keep it short
- Show some character
- Make Miss Manners proud
- Include your contact info
Letters to the editor should always be about a timely issue—a recent happening, an article in this morning’s paper, or the hot issue of the week. You’re more likely to get printed if yours is one of the first letters they receive on the subject. And I’ve found that if I delay at all in writing the letter, I never get around to it. If I have something I want to write about, I sit down and dash something out in 5 or 10 minutes, proofread, and send it off. It’s better to write something imperfect than never get around to writing your perfect letter.
Keep it short
“It’s one of the best tools bicycle advocates have to quit talking to ourselves and reach all those Portlanders who aren’t bicyclists (yet)”
You don’t want the editor to decide which of your points is the most important. Do them the favor of staying within their length guidelines. Besides, newspaper readers are as busy as you are – three perfect sentences are more likely to be read than seventeen rambling ones. Figure out what your one main point is, and stick to it.
Show some character
If you haven’t hooked your reader by the time they’ve finished your first sentence, they’ll skip it. Make sure your opening line has some punch to it. And make sure the rest isn’t boring either–tell a story, use expressive language, use powerful words, dare to be funny, show your passion.
Make Miss Manners proud
Be excruciatingly polite. Follow letter formatting. Proofread (and if you’re bad at this, have a friend proofread it for you).
Include your contact info
Submit your full name, home address, and daytime telephone number. This is to help the editors make sure you are a real person; they will only print your name. Follow the submission guidelines exactly. The editor receives many submissions, so if you make them have to track you down online, they probably won’t bother. Expect a call (or sometimes an email) before they print your letter.
Now that you know how to write the letter, here are some contacts and letters to the editor requirements for a few local media outlets.
Letters to the editor, The Oregonian
1320 S.W. Broadway
Portland, OR, 97201
e-mail to: email@example.com
Please limit letters to 150 words. Please include your full address and daytime phone number, for verification only. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.
Letters to the Editor
c/o The Portland Mercury
605 NE 21st Ave, Suite 200
Portland, OR 97232
Letters may be edited for space consideration.
Online letter submission page
Letters to the Editor should be no longer than 250 words. Submissions for a guest opinion column should be no longer than than 600 words. Submissions may be edited for length, grammar, libel and appropriate taste.
Letters must be accompanied by a name, telephone number, email address and street address for verification purposes. Anonymous letters will not be published. Street addresses, telephone numbers or e-mail addresses will not be printed.
2220 NW Quimby St
Portland, OR 97210
Letters must be signed by the author and include the author’s street address and phone number for verification. Letters must be 250 or fewer words.
Don’t feel like you have to stop with just the local paper, either! Magazines print letters as well, and letters from Portlanders have been published in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and even the Economist.
I hope you’ll give it a try, and if you’re already a letter writer, please share your examples and tips in the comments.
This article was written by Jessica Roberts.