Friday, October 8, 2021

Get the Word Out: Letters to the Editor for Non-local Newspapers

Image: Cindy shouting into a megaphone

I know there are great media writers reading my blog who already have good relationships with their local newspapers. Fantastic! My local RESULTS St. Louis group got to that point a few years ago. We were very good at getting letters to the editor (LTE’s) published in newspapers around town. But we wondered, “How could we expand our media influence around our state?” In fact, a senate aide tole us they wanted to see us bring in media clips not only from our urban area, but from rural Missouri as well to show our influence in those areas.

I’ll share three tips we learned in case you’re looking to broaden your reach around your state and even into others. Getting published out of state is one of the few ways I can influence members of Congress out of my state. They may not have to represent me, but they definitely care what anyone says about them in the press!

If you’ve never written a letter to the editor before, pop over to my previous blog to check out basic tips for writing LTE’s. For a next step in generating more media, read on…

#1 Find a good headline from Associated Press News and submit several similar LTE’s at once

Editors love letters responding to articles in their own paper. Yet it can take time to look through many papers searching for a good headline “hook” related to your issue. The Associated Press can save you time!

Associated Press is a news service a lot of papers use, so they don’t have to use local resources to cover national news. If you find a headline that could be an excellent hook and the byline says Associated Press or “AP” on it, google that exact headline and it will probably turn up in several newspapers around the country. So, I can write one basic letter, then alter it a bit for each consecutive one until I respond to all of them, changing out the names of the members of Congress for the different publication areas. 

For instance, say you want to find an article about COVID-19 vaccines so you can write an LTE about global access. The AP put out an article called “Sweeping new vaccine mandates for 100 million Americans.” The same article was picked up in Denver, St Louis, Detroit, and Cedar Rapids among others. I can usually submit 6 or 7 letters using this method and maybe even get 2 or 3 of them published! Make sure each one is a slightly different, so they aren’t exact copies of each other.

Image: A headline with the Associated Press byline circled

Newspapers might change the headline a little, but they usually keep the first line of the article the same, so you could google the first line and possibly find even more.

#2 Try out-of-town newspapers in cities where you have a connection

For instance, my hometown newspaper in Fargo, North Dakota had a letter to the editor talking about the separation of church and state. I used that hook to say while the writer’s point was important, I also believe in being actively engaged in politics to live out the moral values I first learned as a child at Gethsemene Cathedral in Fargo. Mentioning my home church established my connection to their local community. I wrote about how people of many faiths support feeding malnourished people around the world and requested a global nutrition action from North Dakota senators.

Image: My Space Camper suited up
for a space walk simulation
For a paper in Oklahoma City, I might mention my mom lives there to reference a connection. I’ve also found newspapers amenable to printing your writing if you mention you travelled to the town for a beloved local attraction. When I took my daughter to Space Camp in Huntsville, AL and mentioned our trip in a piece while I stayed in town for a week, it was published immediately. 

#3 Respond to a colleague in the opinion section

This one works so well for me, it almost feels like cheating. If you know other activists who write LTE’s on the same issue, respond to their letters. I’ve lost track of the number of times my fellow RESULTS partner Willie Dickerson and I have landed published responses to each other’s letters, even though he lives in Washington State and I’m in Missouri. If I notice Willie has a letter in a newspaper far from where he actually lives, I automatically know they accept letters from out of town and that they would publish letters on our issues. So, I just write a letter to the editor saying I agree with him and mention a few more talking points about the same issue. This has the added benefit of going a little deeper into the issue than the original letter, so the members of Congress learn a little more.

Image: Willie Dickerson with my youngest daughter
Lastly, I’ll point out that some papers do not accept out-of-town letters at all. If you want a surefire list of papers around the country accepting of out-of-towners, I have a list of my published letters to the editor on my website. Any paper not in St. Louis is out-of-town for me, so they are fair game!

Let me know in the comment if any of these tips work for you or if you have some to add. Good luck!