A good letter to the newspaper can work wonders for climate action, influencing leaders in government or business you may have trouble reaching otherwise, and educating lots of local readers as well.
However, any letter published must compete for attention with everything around it, and opinion pages are busy places. Here’s how to make your letter stand out:
- Start with the ask. Speak directly to the person in charge. Maybe it’s the editor who ran the article you liked (or didn’t like), or the political leader who did something right (or wrong). Tell them what you want them to do, whether it’s to keep up their good work or to change their behavior. Be specific but succinct.
- Back up your claim with evidence. Follow your opening request with a reason why. Cite a credible study or statistic if you can.
- Respond to an article in the paper, if possible. Newspapers love letters that refer to their articles. Be sure to name the article’s date.
- Be timely. Your letter means most if it concerns something that just happened, so don’t wait days to write.
- Be local. Local newspapers are for local issues. Even if your issue is national or global, tell us why it’s meaningful here.
- Be direct, but nice. If your letter is a complaint, come right to the point but avoid nastiness. Papers will not publish name-calling or potentially slanderous claims, and readers discredit schoolyard taunts.
- Write in first-person. Tell us what the matter means to you. Use your own words. If you have relevant qualifications or personal experience, make that part of your story.
- Refer by name to the legislator, company or institution you are trying to influence. If your letter includes a legislator’s name, their staff will bring the letter to the legislator’s attention. Similarly, business leaders watch for mentions of their company in newspapers.
- Follow the paper’s rules on length. The Spokesman-Review allows no more than 200 words, and around 150 is usually best.
- Include your contact information. Be sure to include your name, address, and daytime phone number; the paper will contact you before printing your letter.
Finally, for even more impact after your letter publishes, clip it out and mail it with a cover note to the legislator or company you are trying to influence. Tell them why the issue meant so much to you that you felt the need to write to the newspaper about it, and try to be positive, either thanking them for doing the right thing or expressing optimism that changing course will create better outcomes.