In March, an advocate in Chicago caught the attention of her senators and representative when she publicly called out her members of Congress in The Chicago Tribune. Last week an advocate who is disheartened by the situation in Syria turned the crisis into an opportunity to raise awareness and publicly speak to her senators in the North Jersey section of the USA Today Network. While often taken for granted, mocked for being outdated, or just forgotten about – newspapers are a valuable advocacy tool and a way to bring the power of the press to your side.
Newspapers – paper and online versions, have areas set aside for readers and people who live in the areas they serve. In general, there are two ways for you to contribute –
Letters to the Editor
Letters to the editor are generally a response to something else that has been published in the paper. In general, the pieces are short, about 150-300 words and you can find guidelines for submission on the newspaper website. Capture the attention of the editor by making references to recently published headlines. Here are some actual recently published headlines and possible responses you could use –
Headline: 2 Possible Paths For The GOP To Take On Healthcare Reform
Response: Let’s talk about the healthcare that has been working and cut under 5 deaths in half – U.S. foreign assistance
Headline: Remember When Trump Said He Saved 1100 Jobs at a Carrier Plant?
Response: The cuts that are increasing jobs – in the child labor sector
Headline: Trump’s military strikes in Syria complicated by Iran’s role
Response: With or without military intervention in Syria, there are millions who need humanitarian aid.
Read an advocate’s letter to the editor, US foreign aid fights desperation and extremism.
Read an advocate’s letter to the editor, We can’t reduce humanitarian aid to refugees.
Op-ed is short for ‘opposite the editorial page.’ Many times the ‘op’ is interpreted to mean opinion, because sharing your opinion or unique view is exactly what these pieces are about. Op-eds are longer, typically 600-800 words, and do not have to be connected to something recently published in the paper. However, to be published they usually do have to be connected to your community and have a unique perspective. In general, these are more difficult to have published than a letter to the editor.
Steps for writing your letter or op-ed
- Learn your local paper’s guidelines for op-ed or letter to the editor submission. You can often find this on the paper’s website, in the “Contact Us,” “FAQ,” or “Editorial” sections.
- Write your op-ed or letter according to your paper’s guidelines to increase your chances for publication.
- Submit your piece (via email or online form, depending on their guidelines) and ask for a confirmation that it was received. Some papers specify on their website that if you do not receive a reply from them within a certain amount of time then your submission will not be published, but follow-up and ask for a response if the paper’s protocol allows.
- If you discover they will not publish your piece, find out the reason and ask if a revision would improve its chances of being published.
- If your piece is published, follow-up with the editor and say thank you. It helps to develop a positive relationship with them for future submissions.
- Mail, email, or hand-deliver your published piece to your members of Congress to maximize its impact with them, especially if you publicly called them out to take a specific action in the letter. Having the published letter or editorial in-hand opens a dialogue with them about the subject. It also helps members of Congress to realize people are paying attention and they will be help accountable.
- Be sure to share your published editorial or letter with World Vision (firstname.lastname@example.org) so we can track our collective impact and encourage other advocates with your example!
A few tips
- Keep it short. In general, op-eds should be 600-800 words, and letters to the editor should be 150-300 words, but follow your paper’s specific guidelines.
- Make it locally relevant. The more you connect your editorial to your community, the better. Newspapers publish information they believe is pertinent to their readers, so your piece is more likely to be published when it is tied to a current, local event or addresses local leaders (for example, when it responds to the actions—or lack thereof—of your member of Congress).
- Make it personal. While your op-ed or letter should include facts about the issue, it should also reflect your personality. The best editorials explain why the subject is relevant to both the writer and the reader. Tell your own story and why you care about the issue you are campaigning for.
- Make it action-oriented. Include information on how readers can get involved. If you’re writing an op-ed or letter near the time that advocacy is taking place, make sure you include information about how readers can join your efforts. If the paper will not include a Web site or call to action in the body of your article, include that information in your biography at the end of your editorial.
- Don’t forget to include your contact information. Newspapers need to know how to reach you if they’re going to run your editorial.
- Ask for help! If you send us an email, we’ll send you a draft and a few simple steps — in less than 30 minutes you can personalize a few sentences and send it off.
This post is a part of our Talking to Congress series where we are sharing how to use emails, phone calls, and more in the most effective ways. If you would like to see a topic covered, or if you have any questions, leave a comment below!
Photo: At the World Vision Pastor and Influencer Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., a group prepares their strategy for advocating to members of Congress. © World Vision 2017/ photo by Garrett Hubbard