Writing Letters to the Editor and Opinion Pieces

This page provides tips on how to write letters to the editor and opinion pieces for the print media.

Information on how to contact specific Santa Fe-area media (New Mexican, Reporter, ABQ Journal, KSFR, others) can be found here.

As is evident from below, most media restrict the frequency with which individuals can contribute letters to the editor or opinion pieces (op-eds).  Here is an example from the New Mexican:

You can write a letter once a month and one My View every three months. We require the letter writer’s name, address and phone number to be considered for publication. We also encourage writers to include a photo of themselves.
Send letters and op-eds to:  letters@sfnewmexican.com.  Any questions?  Call 986-3063.

Note that these are criteria you should keep in mind when writing to the New Mexican for publication:

  1. The content should not be libelous, or advocate harm or hate of any individual group.
  2. Any facts cited should be accurate.  Include the source of the facts (if not for publication) after the letter or op-ed or in your cover email/letter.
  3. Strictly stick to the word limits:  150 words for a letter to the editor and 600 words for an op-ed (“My View”).  The shorter the letter or op-ed the more likely it will be published quickly.
  4. If you wish to submit a cartoon, please contact the editorial page editor, Inez Russell Gomez, directly:  505-986-3053 or igomez@sfnewmexican.com.
  5. Here is the newest statement by the editorial staff about letters and My views:

Please send letters and My Views to [letters@sfnewmexican.com]. Include your full name, street address and phone number for verification with each submittal. We will keep your contact information confidential. When you state facts, please send links to your source material for fact-checking. We reserve the right to edit for clarity, civility, space and accuracy. Please limit your letters (per person) to once a month and 150 words and My Views to 600 words and once every three months. With My Views, send a one-sentence description of the writer for a tagline.


Tips on Writing Letters to the Editor or Op-Ed (Opinion) Pieces for Newspapers

Letters to the Editor

There are various approaches to writing letters.  Several principles to keep in mind:

  1. Stay civil.  Don’t use hyperbolic or inflammatory language.
  2. Stay focused.  The best letters and op-eds address one (or at the most two) issues, state a claim, explain the claim for the general audience to understand, and then justify the claim through clear argument.
  3. It’s fine to use anecdote or try to evoke empathetic reaction – most of us relate more to pulls on our heart strings than mind logic centers.  But be aware of item 6 below – don’t be overly emotional.

When writing your piece, use these principles, adapted from Camera.Org’s guidelines:

Top 10 Letter Writing Tips
1) Be Quick. Try to send your letter within a day or two of the broadcast or article.2) Be Pithy. State the point of your letter within the first two sentences. A reader scanning the letter should be able to quickly identify your view of the issue in question.

3) Be Convenient. State the title, author and date of the article or reporter of the broadcast so the editor doesn’t have to search for your reference.

4) Be Concise. Most publications will not print more than 250-300 words for a letter to the editor. Check to see what your paper’s limit is and stick to it. Editors tend to publish letters they don’t have to spend time shortening.

5) Be Focused. While an article or broadcast may contain numerous instances of bias, concentrate on just one or two. Your opening line can refer to the overall skew of the broadcast/article, but then zero-in, e.g. “Your broadcast unfairly disparaged Israel with its numerous factual and contextual errors. One such error was…” It’s better to fully explain one point than to inadequately cover five.

6) Be Polite. Hostile or overly emotional language is counterproductive. Use factual information. A lot of useful information can be found on the CAMERA and SFVFI websites.

7) Be Yourself. Mentioning that you are responding to an SFVFI Alert may lessen the impact of your letter and keep you from getting published.

8) Be Impactful. Send a copy of your letter not just to the editor, but also to the reporter, foreign editor, publisher…to advertisers/sponsors of the broadcast… to congressional reps if the report was on public radio or television… When writing to a syndicated columnist, be sure to send a copy to the paper the columnist works for, as well as to your local paper if the column appears there.

9) Be Engaged. Develop a relationship with the editor of the Letters-to-the-Editor page. Follow up with a call to ask if your letter will be published. If the answer is no, ask why and what you could do to make your letter more acceptable for publication. If the editor doesn’t remember your letter, offer to read it over the phone and/or re-email it. If your letter is published, make yourself memorable by writing a note to the editor thanking him/her for allowing your concerns to be shared with the public.

10) Be Available. Before publishing a letter, most papers will call to verify that you wrote it. Remember, particularly if you’re using e-mail, to include your full name, title (if applicable), address and daytime phone number.

Regarding #5 above, when writing, decide on the specific message of your letter or op-ed first.  Is it related to unfair or inaccurate reporting (see CAMERA’s description of these issues here)?  Is it in rebuttal to another writer’s misinformation, misguided judgement, or inaccurate conclusions from correct facts?

 

Op-Ed Writing

The best op-ed pieces exhibit the following characteristics:   (taken from the Journalist’s Resources)

  • Clarity.
  • Coherence and unity.
  • Simplicity.
  • Voice and tone. Most are conversational; some require an authoritative voice.
  • Direct quotations and paraphrasing for accuracy.
  • That you properly credit all sources (though formal citations are not necessary).
  • The consistency of your opinion throughout your op-ed or column.

To find out more details about these characteristics, go to the source.

As with letters to the editor, make sure your submission is within the word limit.  Many media will automatically reject op-eds that are longer than the word limit.