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MONTHLY MEDIA TIP

LEARNING TO NAVIGATE THE RAPIDS


The Problem:
You are perusing the news one day and come across a story that contains inaccurate or misleading information that conflicts with your organization's message. Or, you are trying to quickly insert your organization's voice into a debate or controversy in the media. How do you effectively and rapidly respond? The following tip explains how a letter to the editor (LTE) is an ideal method to highlight an inaccurate or biased article, explain connections between news items and your organization's priority issues, or to praise a story or editorial.


The Strategy:
A letter to the editor is a quick and easy way to get your organization's voice heard. It's important to weigh in on inaccurate coverage or a local debate because you want the public and policy makers to formulate an opinion on your issue that is consistent with your goals. But a hasty, unprofessional reply may tarnish your organization's image or prevent the publication of your LTE altogether.

Your letter should identify the article to which you are responding and the particular claim with which you disagree, followed by your stance on the particular issue. Keep your points concise and clear and stick to one subject. Make your first sentence short, compelling and catchy and don't be afraid to use a direct, engaging style. Also, use your credentials. If you have expertise in the area you are writing about, say it. Try to keep the length to no more than 250 words.

Remember, the primary goal of a newspaper is to disseminate information to its readership. They will most likely publish letters that directly address their readers on current issues. So, localize your letter by using local statistics that support your point, personal anecdotes, or by directing your concern to influential local or regional policy makers.

Mail, fax or email your letter to a newspaper. Look for the correct addresses in the LTE section or on the newspaper's web page. Letters must always include your full name, home address and daytime and evening telephone number(s). You are unlikely to get published if you live outside the circulation area of the paper. A paper will usually call you if they decide to run your LTE and may wish to verify that you are the author.

You should think about LTEs as regular strategic campaign tools that increase the effectiveness of your organization's communications activities. Timing will increase the impact of your letter. Your goal should be to submit your letter within one day of when the article to which you are responding was printed and definitely while your issue is newsworthy. Try to target several different papers in your area simultaneously and encourage people to explore different angles on the same issue. It is ideal if letters on your issue are published in several places within your region. However, the text in each letter should be distinct. This will demonstrate to your target audience of public citizens and policy makers that your issue has reached far into a legislative or congressional district -- which, in turn, influences political decision making.

Keeping these strategies in mind will make your diligent perusal of the news worthwhile!!

Case Studies:
In the June 19, 1999 issue of the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, National correspondent Michael Paulson reported the response of Northwestern senators to a Clinton administration proposal involving endangered salmon. EMS focused on U.S. Senator Slade Gorton's statements regarding his fear that the Clinton administration's agenda to save endangered salmon would result in the "extermination of humans from the Northwest." Gorton's opinion was an easy opening for EMS to highlight his anti-environmental stance on this issue. (See the attached letter)

In the February 27, 2000 issue of The Seattle Times, several readers, including EMS, wrote LTEs following a catastrophic cyanide spill affecting the Hungarian Tisa River. The spill resulted from an accident at a gold mine in Romania, and EMS used its example to present concerns about the proposed Crown Jewel gold mine in Okanogan County. By emphasizing the similarities of the two mines and their potential catastrophic risks, the EMS-authored LTEs urged Washingtonians to rethink the construction of the Crown Jewel mine. (See attached letter)


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