How Will Your Take Action?
Letters to the Editor and Guest Opinion Columns
- Letters should be no longer than 200 words.
- Guest Opinion Columns no longer than 500-600 words.
- Typically, no writer will be published more than once every 30 days.
- Newspapers reserve the right to accept or reject any letter or guest column for publication, and also to edit for grammar, length and accuracy.
- All letters and guest columns should include the author’s name, address and telephone number for verification purposes.
- Published letters and guest columns always include the author’s name.
Tips for Writing a Letter to the Editor
- Newsworthy: Newspapers primarily publish submissions relating to timely issues that have received a lot of press. The Pennsylvania budget, severance tax and the impact on businesses and middle class families are indeed newsworthy.
- Proof: Provide concise arguments for your position, and supply specific facts and personal stories explaining how additional energy taxes will impact you, your family and your local community.
- Forward: Send your letter to your state senator and representative and other local elected officials who you know.
Public Hearings and Town Hall Meetings
Just about every proposal needs a public hearing, regardless of where you live in the Commonwealth. It is important to understand that public comment is encouraged before your local community before a recommendation is made to the “legislative authority.” Speaking at a public hearing is an excellent opportunity to advance or eradicate an issue in the early stages of discussion. While public speaking can be intimidating, it’s an important part of our democratic process and it is your right to communicate your position on topics that have the ability to affect your community. It’s how you communicate it that is important. We have provided a quick five-step road-map to help.
- Know Your Audience:
In your local community, the legislative authority may be a City Council, County Council, Borough Council or Township Supervisors. Know who you are speaking to and understand the rules on how to speak at a local public meeting.
Make sure what you are going to say has value and doesn’t anger or frustrate your audience. The value of your speech is to show you are one of many who share this view and to persuade decision-makers, to come over to your side.
To that end, if someone has already made your point, don’t repeat it word-for-word. Keep in mind that public testimony usually isn’t a two-way conversation. You may ask a question of decision-makers, but the structure of public comment usually doesn’t allow for a response.
Don’t be combative or overly emotional. Your credibility as a community member depends upon your ability to keep calm and reasoned.
Keep it brief. Be sure to have your Elevator Speech. (If you were in an elevator with the decision-maker, how could you get across your message in the time it takes to get from the top floor to the lobby?)
- Identify yourself:
Both the decision-makers and the stenographer will want to know your full name and at least your street name or precinct. In some cases, you may be asked to write down your address.
- Say what you’re going to say:
Give them a one-line preview, such as “I support (your position) the proposed bylaw to change zoning requirements to make accessory dwellings easier to build (issue) because we need more housing (why it’s important).”
- Say it:
“Frame” the issue showing how it will benefit a broad base of people. For example, more accessory dwelling units may benefit young people looking for housing, but seniors will also benefit by having an additional revenue stream and the local economy will benefit from having employees live locally.
Talk about what problem it will solve or what gain it will create.
Address any false information.
- Be seated:
Reiterate your point
Thank them for listening
- Have a seat
Before planning a media event, it is important to set expectations and define success. Every media market and event will be different, and it is important to determine media/event goals.
Identify Press Event Participants:
- Reach out to local officials, county commissioners, township supervisors and/or the recipients/benefactors of specific funding or programs.
- Make sure they are aware of your issues and why it is important to your local community.
- Ask if they are willing to do a press event to build awareness by communicating the importance of your issue and highlight what it means for their local community.
Prepare the Press Conference
- Location. Identify a location to hold the press event. Make sure it is easily accessible to the local media outlets. Schedule it at a time that works for local news coverage (typically mid-morning is ideal). Incorporate a localized news hook about on your topic that makes it worthwhile to cover. Make sure there is a strong visual element that makes it appealing to cameras. Have a short speaking program that utilizes local recipients/benefactors of the topic.
- Prepare a Media Advisory (See Sample). A few days prior to the event, issue a short media advisory alerting reporters to the event. The advisory should be no more than one page in length, and should include basic information such as “Who, What, Where and When.” After the media advisory is issued to your list, call all media contacts to ensure they received the advisory and are aware of the event. On the day of the event, you should call the media contacts again to remind them of the event and to encourage them to attend.
- Follow Through. Call the newspaper to confirm that they received your press release and ask if they are willing to publish it. If they are not, inquire as to why. You can then edit and resubmit your piece based on their suggestions, if possible.
- Forward. Send your letter to your state senator and representative and other local elected officials who you know.