April 2004 Grassroots Monthly Action
Write a Letter to the Editor or Op-Ed on Debt!
At the end of this month, on April 24-25, the IMF and World Bank will meet in Washington for their spring meetings. This event, together with other stories in the news, provides an excellent “hook” to get letters to the editor and/or op-eds published in your local newspaper or online publication about debt! Writing a letter to the editor is easy, and letters are an effective tool to reach people in your community as well as decision-makers with our message. Read on for tips on how to write a letter, sample letters and talking points on various topics, and other helpful information. Be sure to send a copy of your letter to the Jubilee USA office if you get published!
Please find below:
(1) tips on how to write effective letters and op-eds; and
(2) “hooks” you can use to respond to current news items with a letter about debt, the IMF, and World Bank. This section also includes talking points and sample letter formats that you can use or adapt into your own words.
1. Tips on Writing Effective Letters and Op-Eds
a. Tips on Writing Effective Letters to the Editor
Writing a letter to the editor is the easiest and most effective way to get your own words into the media. The letters section is one of most read sections of the newspaper. some guidelines:
· Submit a SHORT letter – best to keep it in the range of 150-200 words.
· Sometimes who you are makes a difference as to whether your letter is printed, and other times it is the number of letters on an issue. An especially moving letter may have a higher chance of getting printed.
· You always want to reference a previously published article. Reference can be loose or specific. Always respond to a story that ran in the paper. With a letter to the editor, you are not creating news, but responding to it and offering your own views and insights, and you are continuing discussion of the issue in the news article. The article you respond to can be about IMF/WB, Haiti, Argentina, and of the above listed topics and/or the economy at large.
· You can write letters to the editor not just to correct errors but also to amplify something the reporter said or to bring in whole new concepts and pieces they don’t mention.
· It is always good to start your letter on a positive note. You could start with: “Thanks for the interesting, provocative article on XXX.” Then transition into the point you want to make. But keep it positive – don’t slay the reporter.
· Decide what the main point is that you want to make, and focus on it. Remember, after the introduction where you reference the article and identify yourself, you only have 100-120 words to make your point.
· Be personal when you can. Who you are makes a difference. Say what congregation you attend or what group you are a member of.
· Be timely – try to write your letter 1-2 days after seeing the article. Remark on a very recent story.
· Keep your letter really simple and short.
· Proofreading is key – check your work before sending it in.
· Be sure to sign your name, give your address/phone number, as many papers want to call you before printing the letter.
· Above all, don’t get discouraged!! The more letters to the editor they get on a topic, even if they don’t run your story now, will make them more likely to run one in the future!
· You don’t have to be a brilliant writer to publish a letter. You have equal voice as a subscriber.
· Don’t forget: if you get published, send your letter to Jubilee USA, and to your Member of Congress – LTEs are a great tool to get your members’ attention on an issue.
· Also, there is an equivalent to LTEs in the world of electronic media. Radios have lines for feedback. TV stations have feedback lines too. Call in and leave feedback on stories you hear or see on radio/TV.
b. Tips on Writing an Effective Op-ED
· Op-eds are slightly different and more involved than a LTE.
· In general an op-ed is 500-700 words in length, though it varies by publication.
· In an op ed, you want to be timely, but also be the voice of reason. You can tell your personal story if it relates to your editorial viewpoint.
· Avoid cliches and jargon — Be as clear as possible.
· A lot of times editors want someone with a special name, but sometimes just being a changemaker is good.
· Avoid passive voice. Give insight and show your expertise.
· Pick one outlet and give it to them, don’t put it out broadly. Newspapers like to have exclusive rights to op-eds; so start with one paper, get a yes/no, then move on to another rather than sending it to many all at once.
· A good process: E-mail the op-ed, and then phone the editor to follow up. Mornings are better than afternoons to make calls to reporters/editors.
· Also, you can ghostwrite an article, ask someone with a bigger name, like a religious leader or community leader to sign it and submit it.
· As for timing, it is best to try to place op-eds when the issue you are addressing has legs or salience. Best to pitch op-eds in advance of an event. If people want to try to get something in by April 24-25 IMF/World Bank meeting, try to get in at least a week to 10 days out.
Jubilee has a more detailed fact sheet on working with the media, which offers additional hints on writing letters and op-eds.
2. “Hooks” You Can Use: Responding to Current News Articles
When writing a letter to the editor, it is best to respond directly to an article which appeared in the newspaper. As there are few articles directly about the issue of debt cancellation for impoverished nations, it is most effective to look for articles about related issues and make the connection back to debt and IMF/World Bank policies.
There are a number of topics that are currently in the news (or that will be later this month) that provide effective hooks to talk about debt and IMF/World Bank policies. Some of these include stories about Iraq, Argentina, or Haiti; about HIV/AIDS; about the April spring meetings of the IMF/World Bank itself; about the current selection process for a new IMF Managing Director. Follow this link to see talking points and sample language you can use to respond to articles on these subjects. Though these are some of the main topics in the news with easy links to debt you don’t have to limit yourself to this list. Be creative! Make up your own links to debt – just get those letters in!