This Tuesday, we dug deeper into the details of how to tell our stories through a Letter-to-the-Editor or Opinion piece. An LTE or Op-Ed is a powerful platform to reaching a wide audience. What is the preferred format? Who do we contact? How do we get published? What makes for persuasive writing? We discussed these questions and more with two-time guest Paul Lask. Scroll to the bottom to find the full recording of our live Zoom meeting.

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LTE’s

  • A letter-to-the-editor is often in response to an article or event. Typically they are published in a newspaper or newsmagazine, but they can also be published in a wide variety of periodicals and journals.
  • In general, 300 is highest word count for an LTE.  The local paper might have their own word count and you can look on website to find it.  Some bigger publications have a form that you can fill out online.  A lot of smaller publications don’t have anything on their website. If that’s the case, just send the letter to the actual editor.  You can find their contact information and reach out to them directly.
  • Typically, googling is the easiest way to find the information you need.
  • You can submit your letter to multiple publications.

    Click Here to See a Great ToolKit from Rogue Climate That Has Lots of Valuable Information

Op-Eds

  • The term Op-Ed is short for “opposite the editorial page,” but people also think of “op” as an abbreviation of “opinion.”
  • These longer pieces are the strong, informed, and focused opinion of the writer on an issue of relevance to a targeted audience.
  • If the piece hits a nerve and becomes popular, it could get picked up by multiple publications and editors will be willing to help polish it.
  • Paul recommends taking the time to dig for a variety of publications that might be interested. Check out Authorspublish.com.  They’re cool because they scour the internet for publications that accept submissions. You can find the deadline windows and get weekly emails with submission announcements.  Looks over the sites to see what they’re looking for.
  • Choose the publication space that you’re interested in. Newport News has a different readership than Mother Jones.  Look at what type of outlet you want your voice published in. Are you focusing on environmental justice?  Or indigenous stories?  Or archaeology? Or coastal life? Figure out the tone and the appropriate outlet.
  • Look at what a periodical currently publishes and what have published in the past.
  • Note that some companies such as REI solicit content as well.
  • This research takes time but can be well worth the effort.
  • Try looking for newer journals and magazines.  These outlets are often branching off of larger publications, and trying to start their own projects. They’re hungry for content, often grant funded, and willing to take on emerging writers.
  • Try creating your own blog! Sites like WordPress are easy to navigate and the way many writers build a following.
  • Try requesting a spot as a guest blogger.  If you want to write about something ocean related, Surfrider would be happy to host your piece!
  • Non-profits are often seeking people to write LTE’s. If you have a story to write, try finding a non-profit who wants to partner and support you!
  • Sometimes it’s possible to pitch a story to a local publication and then work with a journalist to write the story. This can also be coordinated around campaigns to really make an impact.
  • There is a bit of a “chicken or the egg” conundrum: do you the craft story first, or find out let first?  The first thing you should do is find a good idea and develop an elevator pitch.  Then write it into pithy two-sentence pitch.  Make it as succinct as you can and start sending it out.

On Timing

    • Think about the timing of your piece. Is it right before or after a big event? Have there recently been similar stories published? Is it a fresh take on an old idea?
    • Be aware that there can be fatigue on certain topics so it is important to highlight a new edge. Sometimes the timing is just right for a piece to really take off and explode. It’s inspiring!

Make Local Connections

  • If you can reach out to local activists, artists, writers, photographers, scientists, etc., you may find great connections to publications and audiences both in your home region and beyond.

General Writing Tips

  • Introduce yourself, where you live, and a bit of history. Show your local connection and insert some personality.
  • Use a blend of ethos, logos, and pathos (aka character, facts, and emotion). For more on those rhetorical tools, check out our blog on Storytelling with the Written Word
  • Your piece may be published digitally, in print, or both. If you include links, make sure they are embedded in the language so that they can also translate into print smoothly. Example: “Climate change may cause sea level rise in Oregon.” Although “sea level rise” is hyperlinked here, if printed on paper it would still read well.

On Timing

  • Think about the timing of your piece. Is it right before or after a big event? Have there recently been similar stories published? Is it a fresh take on an old idea?
  • Be ware that there can be fatigue on certain topics so it is important to highlight a new edge. Sometimes the timing is just right for a piece to really take off and explode. It’s inspiring!

Final Advice From Paul

  • Don’t worry too much about social media and that world if you are not interested in it.  When Paul wondered if he needed to play that social media game, his editor assuaged his concern. “You just need a good story and it will move in the right channels.”
  • Don’t sweat rejection. They may either say “no” or give no response and that can feel really hard.  But sometimes just not the right fit or the right time. All writers face rejection and you just have to move forward.

Words of Wisdom from Participants

  • Try to bring people to the table and make it relevant.  How we can work together to make our coast safe and clean?  Try stating the stake you have in the issue as it can relate well to others.
  • Beware of being tone-deaf towards your audience.  When crafting letters and opinions, be aware of audience experience. You want to strike a nerve, but you don’t want to put salt in a wound.
  • Getting started is the hardest part.  But if you have an idea of something people can rally behind, and find a way people can take action. Think about your purpose, what readers can gain, and then just start it!
  • It can be a little scary to put yourself out there. But even if you get rejected, you are still making connections and just finding the right fit.
  • Particularly with LTE’s, they’re actually VERY short!  Writing them can happen fast!
  • Just do it.  Don’t spend too much time. Get to the point, make it short and sweet. It can be hit or miss whether they’ll publish. You might send out a thousand letters, and maybe you’ll get one or two hits…but in the end it’s worth it!
  • When someone is passionate enough about an issue to write about it, it can be infectious and make a difference.  Politicians often mention that LTEs and Op-eds that have made a difference. You never know what’s going to get elevated to statewide or even national level.  It’s exciting and makes a big difference.

Examples by Everyday People Like You and Me

    • Check out this wonderful LTE by Newport teacher and mother Olivia Schroeder.
    • Here’s an Op-Ed I  wrote when I was wrapping up my Master’s research and realized I wanted an audience broader than just my thesis committee to hear it!

If you never start….it’s never going to get published.