Writing letters to the editor and Op-Ed pieces

Letters to the editor are one of the most widely read sections of print media. They are useful in that they can be quick to write, and are published without being heavily edited and interpreted. Use them when you are responding directly to a news story that has been published recently (or not published). Check out the paper you will be submitting to for the length of an existing letter to the editor, and use that as a guideline to avoid having key information cut by the editor. Often daily newspapers have a 300 word limit for letters.

Writing an Op-ed (or opinion editorial) is another excellent, unmediated way of voicing your group’s opinion in a subjective manner. In this section, readers expect to hear people’s blatant opinions and create dialogue on hot issues. Op-Ed sections are often read by influential people in the community and will likely get them thinking (and hopefully, acting) on your issue. If nothing else, writing op-eds helps to build your group’s profile.

When submitting your piece, be sure to:

  • Limit the number of points you make
  • Avoid being overly emotional
  • Include a cover letter with contact information
  • Follow up your submission with a phone call. Don’t be shy to ask if your piece will be published, and if not, why, so that you can be better prepared for the next try.

Also consider gathering a few individuals from your group and schedule a visit to the editor or the editorial board of your local newspaper. Sit down with them and explain why this is an important issue and why the paper should support your position in its editorials. Make sure to bring a press kit to leave behind with the editor(s). See the Media Section for a sample op-ed.

Resources

  • How to Save the World in your Spare Time by Elizabeth May. A practical guide based on “How to be an Activist” workshops for grassroots organization led by May while she was executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada. The book includes sections on basic organizing, lobbying, using the courts, fundraising, media and public mobilization. Published by Key Porter Books, 2006.
  • Refer to the Sierra Club of Canada’s resource as listed under"Learn how to communicate with the media"".
  • The David Suzuki Foundation is an excellent resource with step by step tips on how to write a letter to the editor, and provides contact information for major national daily papers as well as some provincial papers.