a. Editorial Guidelines
b. Writing Tips
Letters-to-the-editor are usually written in response to an article that has already been published in a newspaper or magazine, or to comment on general issues that the news medium has addressed in the recent past. They can be a good venue for victim advocates to address or introduce news of interest to a publication’s readers.
Victim advocates and victims can write letters-to-the-editor to28 28. Ibid., 52.
- Thank the publication or acknowledge their prior responsible coverage of an issue.
- Provide expert opinions or additional information to augment a story that has been published.
- Offer unique angles or perspectives about a published article or an event that’s of interest to the public.
- Address any inaccuracies in a prior report, or its (often unintended) negative impact on victims.
- Address specific details within a story (such as an offensive headline or an inaccurate quotation) while still supporting the value of the article.
All major publications have specific guidelines about letters-to-the-editor, which are usually available on their Web sites:
- Letters should be exclusive to the publication.
- Specific information about length and format, and details about delivery (regular mail, e-mail, and/or fax).
- If a letter is responding to a published article, the letter needs to specially refer to the article (usually written below the publication’s address and above the salutation):
- RE: (title of original article; its publication date).
- Letters should be signed and include the author’s name, title and organization (if relevant), home address, home and business telephone numbers, and e-mail address.
- If a letter is submitted by e-mail (unsigned), the publication will call the author to confirm its authenticity.
- Editors reserve the right to abridge letters.
- Submission delivery (by e-mail, traditional mail, or fax).
- Because of the volume of letters received, not all letters will be published or their receipt acknowledged.
Since editors receive hundreds of letters on a daily basis, victim advocates must make their letters stand out in order to be published. Timing is critical when responding to a published article. “The sooner, the better” means the letter should be written immediately. Editors are more likely to publish letters that—
- Follow the editorial guidelines of their publication (see above).
- Address a perspective that they (and their readers) care about.
- Address a single subject.
- Are concise, creative, and present a fresh point of view—150 words should be the maximum limit. Shorter is better.
- Contain a compelling, catchy opening sentence and theme.
- Provide a “human interest” focus.
- Respond to perceived inaccuracies in a previously published article in a manner that is not only accurate, but respectful.
- Include facts that can be readily verified.
- Avoid attacks that are highly personal or abusive.
In addition, letters can encourage readers to take action: make a call, write a letter, or visit a Web site for more information about how to get involved. Victim assistance organizations can also engage community leaders or other prominent people (including crime victims and survivors) to write letters-to-the-editor on their behalf. A brief sentence about their unique qualifications can be added at the end of the letter.
When victims of crime write a letter-to-the-editor, they should consider identifying themselves as a victim or survivor, depending upon their comfort level and any issues related to personal safety (“As a survivor of my daughter Anna’s homicide. . .”). This offers a truly unique perspective that may grab an editor’s attention and present a viewpoint that can only be provided by someone who has been victimized.
All letters-to-the-editor should be proofread for grammar, spelling, and the accuracy of the information included.