Letter to the Editor Guidelines
There are at least three good reasons for writing letters to the editors of local and national newspapers:
- Letters to the editor are a good way to find allies in the community and influence the electorate that will decide future elections.
- Letters help the newspaper’s editor decide which subjects to cover in future news stories and editorials.
- Elected officials monitor the letters section, along with the editorial page of community newspapers, to gauge local opinion. By mentioning your senators or representative by name and stating the specific legislative action you would like them to take, you can guarantee that your letter will catch their attention.
So how do you get your letters published? Here are a few tips gleaned from personal experience (with some help from the Friends Committee on National Legislation):
- Use the specific guidelines of individual newspapers for submitting letters.
- Submit your letter to a paper in whose readership area you live. Citing local conditions or working a local reference into your letter also helps.
- A specific reference to a recent news story, editorial, or previous letter in your target paper will increase your chances of being published. Example: “A recent article on the front page of The North County Times (“Marine’s murder conviction upheld”, NCT, Tuesday, March 27, 2012) raises issues far larger than those of Sgt. Hutchinson’s individual guilt or innocence…”.
- “Recent” means no older than a few days. For bigger papers (The LA Times, or The SD Union Tribune), it means no older than forty-eight hours.
- It’s OK to use sample letters provided by VFP, IVAW, or other groups for you to plagiarize, but try to put them in words that reflect your own style, and use personal examples.
- Keep it short! Most newspapers will publish up to 200 words. Anything longer may be edited in ways you don’t like, so do the editing yourself! Be ruthless! If you can’t shorten it that much, you may be writing an op-ed piece instead of a letter, and that’s a whole different game.)
- FOCUS! In 200 words, you must stick to one issue. Make your point in the first paragraph, then support it with carefully chosen facts, quotes, examples, and numbers. In your last paragraph, restate your point and make a recommendation for action.
- Fact-check yourself. Nothing compromises your credibility worse than using bogus statistics, provably false facts, etc. Snopes.com is a handy way to check rumors and facts before you go public with them.
- If you know that your opinion also represents the opinions of others, be sure to say so. However, papers will usually limit the number of signatures on a letter to two or three names at the most. You may state an organizational affiliation with your signature, such as “Barry Leidendorf, President, San Diego Veterans for Peace”, but don’t do this unless you are actually speaking for the organization.
- Type or email your letter. Most newspapers prefer email, but some do not like to open attachments due to the risk of viruses. I usually attach my text as a file, but also include it in the text, often with my suggestion for a headline in the subject line. Include full name, address, email address, and daytime phone number.
- Proofread. A high standard of literacy enhances your credibility.
Links to the submission pages for some local newspapers:
San Diego Coastal Community Newspapers (The La Jolla Light, The Del Mar Times, The Solana Beach Sun, and The Carmel Valley News, The Rancho Santa Fe Review), firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the link to the list of local newspapers.
Compiled by James Summers