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Letter Writing 101

Letter Writing 101

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Published by Community Media Lab
Michelle Rogers, director of community engagement and editorial training for 21st Century Media, parent company of The News-Herald and Press & Guide, and reporter Andrew Kidd have created this presentation for a series of workshops that will delve into the art of writing a letter to the editor or guest column that is concise, to the point, and — most important of all — worthy of publication.
Michelle Rogers, director of community engagement and editorial training for 21st Century Media, parent company of The News-Herald and Press & Guide, and reporter Andrew Kidd have created this presentation for a series of workshops that will delve into the art of writing a letter to the editor or guest column that is concise, to the point, and — most important of all — worthy of publication.

More info:

Categories:Types, Presentations
Published by: Community Media Lab on Jan 21, 2014
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Letter Writing 101

Rising above the rabble
with Andrew Kidd and Michelle Rogers

The Basics

• • • • • • •
Write about what you know and what you feel passionate about. Pick a topic that is relevant and timely. Give evidence for praise or criticism.

Be focused, concise and keep it brief.
Back up your statements with facts. Maintain a respectful tone.

Be professional in your wording (no slang or profanity).
Proofread your work before submitting it to the editor.

The Good
1. Under 500 words (227 words) 2. Holding government officials accountable 3. Full name and city of residence 4. Continues conversation of previous column, offering a different perspective

The Bad
This letter is better suited for the city or trash hauler, not as a letter to the editor
We will not publish threats

No anonymous/unsigned letters will be published

The Ugly
We will not publish defamatory, unsubstantiated, libelous statements. We will not publish personal attacks. We will not publish anonymous letters that can’t be verified. We will not publish gossip and hearsay.

The Rules
• • •
Provide your full name, city of residence and telephone number for verification purposes. The author’s name must be published. No anonymous letters. Letters to the editor should be 250 words or fewer. Guest columns should be 600 words or fewer and photo preferred.

Hot Topics

Local issues
Education, government decisions, transportation, taxes, public spending and topics in the news.
Politics, government, transportation, pending legislation, taxes, how tax dollars are spent, the economy, big business, foreign policy.

National topics

Know Your Audience

Don’t assume readers know the background on an issue. In print, summarize in a way that makes the issue accessible to most readers. On the web, you can use links to content referenced online. Write concisely, and use familiar terminology and words. No ‘inside baseball’ or slang.

Questions to Ask Yourself
Before you hit ‘SEND’ or use up a stamp, ask yourself the following questions:

Questions to Ask Yourself

Does it have focus?

Once you have a subject, narrow it down and pick a topic. If writing about education, focus on something specific like reform efforts in the state of Michigan, why Common Core is good or bad, and not simply say that something needs to be done in general In other words, develop your argument for or against something specific, rather than expressing many things at once. You can always write more later.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Is it concise and organized?

Write simply when possible and expand where needed on complex issues. Keep your message in mind; you should have an early paragraph or sentence explaining the news value of the subject, a body stating your argument and facts reinforcing your message and a concluding argument that sums it up.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Is it timely?Despite how important the matter might be to you, the
‘Happy Holidays’ vs. ‘Merry Christmas’ debate loses its relevance in the middle of summer.
The window for many timely submissions is usually a week or two from the date of the news item/occurrence. Predictions for an upcoming news item are accepted as well (i.e. elections, pending legislation, etc) at least a week prior.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Did you avoid personal attacks or prejudiced remarks?

While it might be an ‘opinion,’ our newsgroup (and most legitimate publications) won’t publish racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise hateful letters, columns or rants. This includes personal attacks about private individuals. Politicians, celebrities, high-profile criminals and others who are in the public eye are (generally) fair game, but keep it professional. Otherwise, it could be

Questions to Ask Yourself
• • •
Some summaries of letters/columns we’ve received that were never published: Women shouldn’t have careers Black people are superior athletes A married man is having an affair with a single woman in the community Homosexuality is the root of all evil

Questions to Ask Yourself

Most importantly… Will anyone care, and why should they? Your
letter should make someone care.

Something to Remember...

Publications can and will edit your letters for spelling, grammar, content and length.

Your letters and columns aren’t going to be perfect, so editors will proofread and format them — when needed — to make them fit guidelines.
The underlying message will remain unaltered, but contact the editor if you believe its meaning was changed outright.

Don’t Overstay Your Welcome

• •

Typically limited to one submission per writer per month, but depends on publication and subject matter. The web enables more frequent publication, but consider a blog partnership for daily posts or the comments section.

Don’t Overstay Your Welcome

Further, it’s not a good idea to flood the editor’s inbox with a dozen letters a day. Not only is it inconvenient for the editor, it also makes it difficult to find a letter of yours that COULD be published regarding an important, topical and timely issue.

Don’t Overstay Your Welcome
Don’t re-submit old letters or columns you’ve sent previously as new.

Do, however, feel free to rewrite/revamp them based on new developments in that particular subject.

Think Digital
Sometimes, there’s just not enough space in print for every letter or column we receive.
Websites have virtually unlimited space, and a blog allows us to pull content selectively for more play on our sites.
Letters and columns published online have the potential to go viral (i.e. an article regarding Christian persecution for The Daily Tribune netted thousands of additional views by being shared on Reddit)

Think Digital

Not a writer? No worries. Call our Google Voice phone number and leave your comments on a topic for an online-only post: 734-719-0192 Download SoundCloud on your smartphone, record your comments and send us the link and embed code. https://soundcloud.com/

Social Media & You
• • • • •
Use social media to promote your content Bit.ly: Track your views Twitter: Share your link with the world Facebook: Share your link with friends LinkedIn: Share your link with colleagues RebelMouse: Share your link and curate more on the topic

Start a Blog
Do you have a lot of opinions on one specific topic or multiple topics?
Consider starting a blog
Pick a platform: WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, RebelMouse Add our headline widget or RSS feed and we may link to your blog Send your URL, name of your blog, mug shot, a short description of your blog and contact info to mrogers@heritage.com.

Who to Contact
The Oakland Press: Andrew Kidd, vop@oakpress.com The Macomb Daily: Andrew Kidd, letters@macombdaily.com (Or andrew.kidd@oakpress.com, 248-745-4630) The News-Herald: Rick Kessler, rkessler@heritage.com Press & Guide: Rick Kessler, rkessler@heritage.com Grosse Ile Camera: Lena Khzouz, lkhzouz.heritage.com Heritage.com: Michelle Rogers, mrogers@heritage.com Advisor & Source: Jody McVeigh, jody.mcveigh@advisorsource.com Voice Newspapers: Pat Ferrell, pat.ferrell@voicenews.com

Need Help?

• • •

Visit the Southeast Michigan Media Lab at 215 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti for help. Hours by appointment Call 734-719-0192 Follow the media lab Meetup.com, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress


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