A letter-to-the-editor (or, LTE) is a reader response to a news item ran by a media outlet. Writing LTEs to your local or regional media outlets is an effective way to reach a large audience, since the editorial page is one of the most read sections. Also, elected officials at the federal and local levels monitor local media (including LTEs) in order to keep track of what their constituents care about.
In short, an LTE is a great way to get your representatives’ attention and influence the public narrative about an issue.
Some General Tips
Be timely. Aim to send your LTE to the editor one or two days after the article you’re responding was published.
Follow the outlet’s guidelines. Check the outlet’s LTE/opinion section for any unique rules or conventions they may want your LTE to follow. Some outlets have a word maximum for LTEs.
Keep it short. Outlets often cut LTEs that they feel run long. Since its possible they’ll cut your main point, it’s best to be concise. If the outlet doesn’t have a word maximum, an ideal word count is 150 - 250 words.
Keep it original. Write from your unique perspective – you can even include portions of the advocacy story. And, of course, do not plagiarize.
Mentions officials by name. Even though Members of Congress do monitor local media, mentioning them by name in your LTE will ensure that they see it. Stick to commenting about their voting record, press releases, or other official activities. You can also encourage them to take a specific action, like co-sponsoring a bill. Always keep your comments respectful!
Consider alternative engagement. Even if the outlet doesn’t publish your LTE, there are other ways to get your message out there. If you watch or listen to a news show that solicits viewer responses, consider sending yours. See if your local news outlets or reporters are on social media and share your LTE’s content with them there.
Basic "LTE" Outline
Respond to an article. An outlet will more likely publish your LTE if it’s a direct response to a story they ran, and some outlets even ask that you reference a specific article. Open your LTE by citing the original story’s title and date. If the topic you want to write on has not been covered by the outlet recently, open your LTE by voicing your concern that the paper hasn’t focused on this important issue.
Share your perspective. Who are you? Why do you care about this issue? Do you have any qualifications or characteristics that lend you certain expertise (for example, an immigrant layer writing about migrant detention or a mom with young children worried about air pollution). This section is the ideal space to share any faith-based commitments you may have, as well as discuss any relevant teachings your faith tradition has about the issue.
Share a (personal) story. A story about the impacts of the issue - whether you’ve been personally impacted or know someone personally impacted - is a key way to persuade others, as well as give your argument credibility. Remember to be honest about the story and not over-exaggerate your claims.
State your ask. What action do you hope will come from the public conversation around this issue? How do you want people to respond to the issue? Your LTE should ideally have one target audience: for example, your fellow citizens, an elected official, a corporation, etc. If you target an elected official or a corporation, be sure to include their full name in your letter.
Sign off, with your name and your city.
Download "The Advocate's Toolbox" to see an example LTE that was published in a national newspaper.
Copyright © 2019 Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Washington, D.C.