A Letter-to-the Editor (LTE) is able to reach large audiences. The LTE section of the newspaper is read more frequently than any other. Often perceived as a highly credible display of mainstream community/public sentiment by legislators and other important readers, LTEs, cost nothing except a small investment of time and thought. They can provide:
- An explanation of how your issue relates to other items currently being covered in the news
- A correction of facts after a misleading, inaccurate or biased letter or story
- A chance to respond to other editorials
- A rebuttal to a news or feature story
- A chance to cover the local effects/results of national issues and raise local public awareness of an issue
- A chance to furnish insight on news and issues not being adequately covered by your local newspaper.
Writing an Effective LTE:
- Find out the newspaper's policy for LTEs. Call the newspaper and tell them you would like to write an LTE and would like to know to whom you should address the letter, in what form they would like it, and what length restrictions, if any, they have. This may also be listed on the editorial page of the newspaper or the editorial/opinion section of the website. For most papers, this will be 250 words or less.
- Be concise. Even if the paper you are writing to does not explicitly limit the length of letters it publishes, it will still be to your advantage to be as concise as possible.
- Stick to one subject. You are much better off writing a widely read letter about one topic than to write a letter that covers many topics but is not read or, worse, not published, because it is too long.
- Be timely. Newspapers will rarely print letters about subjects that are not in the news. Use a recent news event or recently published article as a link for making your letter timely. You can look for stories that talk about the Arctic, wildlife protection, Wilderness campaigns, climate change, or another topic that might be related to the Arctic Refuge.
- Do not assume readers will know what you are writing about. If you are writing in response to an article or editorial, start your letter by saying which article you are responding to and when it appeared.
- Use your credentials. If you have personal experience or expertise in the subject area, mention it.
- Be consistent, but original. Do not send in "form letters," or letters that are clearly part of a write-in campaign. No newspaper will knowingly allow itself to be part of an organization's propaganda efforts.
- Concentrate on the local angle. Newspapers are community-based organs and the Letters-to-Editor column is where they interact with the community most explicitly. Any local angle on the subject you are writing about will increase the impact of your letter and increase its chances for publication. It will also help you connect the issue to the reader and increase the likelihood they will take action.
- Follow up. Call to make sure the newspaper has received your letter, and then call a few days later if it has not been printed to find out if it will be printed. If they tell you it is not going to be printed, make sure to ask why so you can incorporate changes into your next attempt.
Sample Talking Points You May Want to Use to Guide Your Letter Writing:
The ideal letter is personal and heartfelt. You can pick one of more of these and use it as a theme to craft a letter that demonstrates your passion for protecting this amazing place.
- America’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is unique, majestic, irreplaceable and important.
- The Arctic Refuge is one of our nation’s most important spiritual and majestic places, with caribou, muskoxen, wolves, 160 species of migratory birds, and polar bears calling it home. (You can look up the bird your state shares with the Refuge here.)
- The Arctic Refuge is a landscape created long before us by a greater power, and future generations are relying on us to protect this special place.
- The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the world’s most beautiful and unspoiled landscapes, and it is worthy of the strongest possible protection to ensure all Americans can enjoy it for years to come.
- Alaska Natives depend on the Arctic Refuge to preserve their way of life and have fought to protect it since time immemorial.
- The Refuge is ground zero for climate change impacts – over the past 40 years, Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the country.
- The changing climate is causing Alaska Native communities near the Refuge to lose their ability to hunt for the food that has sustained them for years. We can’t risk compounding this problem by adding drilling to the equation.
- Together, we will protect America’s wild and iconic Arctic Refuge once and for all. We are calling on President Obama and our representatives in Congress to move beyond promises of protection to action.
If you would like more help or guidance in writing your letter, please feel free to contact the staff of Alaska Wilderness League.