Writing an Effective Letter to the Editor*
Writing a letter to the editor (LTE) of your local or area newspaper is an effective and easy way to impact a large audience with your message. LTEs are printed on the editorial page, one of the most read pages in the paper. Members of congress [and state legislators] keep a close eye on LTEs so they can take the 'pulse' on issues that matter to their constituents. Your LTE helps you reach both a public audience and your elected officials at the same time! Even if your letter is not published, it can educate editors and persuading them to dedicate more time and space in their newspaper to that issue. Here are some tips for writing an effective letter:
Respond to an article in the paper. The best letters are those that are in response to an article in the paper and many papers require that you reference the specific article. Your letter will have a greater chance of being printed if it is in response to an editorial, op-ed, or front page story. Begin your letter by citing the original article by name, date, and author. If your target paper has not covered the issue that you want to address, you might begin your letter by saying that you are concerned that the paper hasn't focused on this important issue.
Follow the paper’s instructions. Information on how to submit a LTE is usually found on the letters page in your paper. This often includes guidelines on what the paper looks for in LTEs. Follow these guidelines to increase the likelihood that your letter will be printed. If you can’t find the information you need, you can always call the paper and ask how to submit a letter.
Be timely. Respond to an article within two or three days of its publication.
Share your credentials and experience if those are relevant.
Refer by name to the legislator or corporation you are trying to influence. If your letter includes a legislator’s name, staff will likely give him or her the letter to read personally. Corporations also monitor the media, especially in areas where they have offices or plants. Be sure to include the corporations full name.
Keep your letter short and focused. In general, letters should be under 200 words, although the newspaper will often tell you what their exact limit is. Focus on one or two main points; and get to the main point in the first two sentences. If possible include interesting details, relevant personal experience, and any local connections to the issue. Letters that are too long will likely get edited down.
Write the letter in your own words. Editors want letters to be original from the reader rather than canned material. You can start with the canned material, but edit it into your own words.
Refute, advocate, and make a call to action. Most LTE follow a regular format. Start by refuting the claim made in the original story. Then take a few sentences to back up your claims and argue for your position. Focus on the positive. Then wrap up by explaining what you believe needs to happen now, make your call to action.
Include your contact information. Usually the paper will want your name, address, and daytime phone number; the paper may contact you before printing your letter. Each paper's instructions will tell you what they want.
Follow-up with your legislator or corporation. If your letter is printed, and targeted a specific legislator or corporation, clip out your printed letter and mail it to the target with a brief cover note. This ensures that the appropriate decision maker sees it.
*Ideas for this section were borrowed from the Union of Concerned Scientists website.
Daily newspapers in Vermont
Barre Times Argus
Bennington Bennington Banner
Brattleboro Brattleboro Reformer
Burlington Burlington Free Press
St. Johnsbury Caledonian-Record
Newport Newport Daily Express
Rutland Rutland Herald
St. Albans St. Albans Daily Messenger
Non-daily newspapers in Vermont
Barre World, The
Bradford Journal Opinion
Burlington Seven Days
Charlotte Charlotte Citizen
Chester Chester Telegraph
Colchester Colchester Sun
Colchester Essex Reporter
Enosburg Falls County Courier
Killington Mountain Times
Manchester Manchester Newspaper
Manchester Manchester Journal
Middlebury Addison County Independent
Milton Milton Independent
Morrisville News & Citizen
Northfield Northfield News
Randolph Herald of Randolph
Shelburne Shelburne News
South Burlington Other Paper
Stowe Stowe Reporter
South Hero Vermont Woman Newspaper
Waitsfield Valley Reporter
White River Junction Valley News
Williston Williston Observer
Williston Business People Vermont
Wilmington Deerfield Valley News
Woodstock Vermont Standard
Student newspapers in Vermont
Middlebury Campus (Middlebury College)
Vermont Cynic (University of Vermont)
Writing to Front Porch Forum
Front Porch Forum (FPF) is an online, daily forum that is town specific. Once you sign on to the forum, you are able to post information and perspectives. It is an ideal way to communicate with others in your town.
The rules for posting to FPF are largely the same as for writing letters to the editor. Your FPF itself will have posting rules listed and all material posted is monitored by FPF. You'll get feedback if they don't like what you submitted.
FPF is a great vehicle for educating and getting educated about wildlife. For example, you might post that you saw a coyote in the neighborhood and were glad to have the opportunity. Others might express concerns and the result can be a useful discussion about what's fact and what's emotion. Many potential human/animals conflicts can be effectively addressed through FPF discussion.
Writing to Legislators
It's hard to overestimate the value of writing to your state legislators, both representatives and senators. You can email them or send them a hand-written latter. You can mail them info packets that help make the case for your point of view. You can even call them. You can comment on pending bills they are debating, or just raise an issue and tell them your view.
Unlike editors, these are elected officials. They really want to know what you think. Why not tell them? Some of your legislators will agree with you and some won't. if you want to really get their ear, though, the smart way is to be clear but respectful. Legislators will almost always reply to your communication, so you can reply to them and eventually they will get to know you. It's a relationship worth developing.