Writing LTE’s

Writing a personal, passionate letter to a local publication is a powerful (and easy) way to have your voice heard by a large audience.

Are you concerned about an emerging environmental problem? Are you wanting to bring forward a different perspective on an issue or point out an error? Do you want to elevate a particular topic to the public or elected officials?

One method of sharing your views beyond social media, events, phone calling, petitioning, tabling, or knocking on doors is writing a letter to the editor (LTE) to a newspaper or publication. LTEs are also free and not very time consuming – all you need is the ability to send an email or deliver (in person or by mail) a letter to the publication’s office.

Local elected officials or other decision-makers keep a close eye on media coverage, including letters to the editor, in their local papers so they can keep a ‘pulse’ on issues of importance to their constituents.

Even if your letter is not published, it is important for educating media staff. The more letters they receive on a given topic, the more likely they are to dedicate more time in their newspaper to that issue—both on the editorial page and in news articles.

Let’s dig into how to write a stellar LTE.

  • Know the submission policy.  Information on how and to whom to submit an LTE is usually found right on the Letters page (or their website). Follow their guidelines to increase the likelihood that your letter will be printed. If you can’t find the information you need, simply contact the paper and ask how to go about submitting an LTE.
  • Read recent editions. Is the topic you want to write about popular? Include new facts or views that haven’t been discussed before. Are you raising an issue? Start by stating your concern that the paper hasn’t focused on this important issue.
  • Get your facts straight. Use evidence and cite it, but focus on the positive. For example: According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, investments in renewable energy would bring over $200 million to our state and create 36,000 jobs by 2020. Then use the next few sentences to back up your claims and advocate for your position.
  • Keep it local. If your LTE focuses on urban topics, be sure to share it with an urban paper. The same goes if you care about rural topics. Your LTE has a higher likelihood of being printed if it has local significance.
  • Make it timely. If you’re responding to an article, do so within three days of publication.
  • Share your own story. Lean on your experiences. How has a past experience impacted your views on the topic or your way of life? Use illustrative words that paint a picture. You absolutely do not have to be a policy or scientific expert to raise an issue!
  • Speak to shared values. These include family, health, quality of life, independence, and prosperity. Everyone generally shares and resonates with these values — it is a matter of putting your issue in that frame.
  • Keep it short and sweet. Most LTE submissions are limited to 150 or 250 words depending on the publication. It’s best to aim for about 150 words as more people are likely to read shorter letters.
  • If you’re submitting a response, name it. The best letters are those that are in response to an article that ran in the paper, especially if it’s an editorial, op-ed, or front page story. Begin your LTE by citing the original story by name, date, and author.
  • Call on public officials or decision-makers by name. If your letter includes a legislator’s name, in almost all cases staff will give him or her the letter to read personally. Businesses also monitor the media, especially in areas where they have physical locations. Be sure to include the full name in your letter.
  • Close with an action. Give readers something to do by explicitly asking them to take action. For example, you can ask people to write their elected official and go to a specific website for tips.
  • Direct your LTE to the editor. Double check that you have the correct contact information for the letters or opinion section of the paper.
  • Include your contact information. Editors need your name, address, and daytime phone number in case they have questions.
  • Follow up. Ask the LTE editor if they received your letter. Ask if they plan on printing it. If not, ask why. In many cases you can revise and resubmit.

Here is an LTE our Policy Analyst, Karlee, wrote in 2018 in response to a State Legislature vote on banning non-native salmon farming in Washington.

Move aquaculture operations from the Puget Sound to upland

Last week, the State Senate voted 35 to 12 in support of Senate Bill 6086 which would phase out Atlantic Salmon net pen operations in the marine waters of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. Senators on both sides of the aisle agree that we should not allow raising nonnative Atlantics in open water marine net pens, especially following the devastating failure of one of the netpens at the Cypress Island operation on August 19, 2017. The investigation revealed that Cooke Aquaculture was negligent in their maintenance practices that allowed over 110 tons of mussels to accumulate and resulted in the escapement of over 100,000 fish. Atlantics were still being caught up the Skagit River four months after the failure. 

I am disappointed that my Senator in the 39th Legislative District, Keith Wagoner, was one of the 12 to vote against this common-sense legislation. This legislation does not ban an industry. Cooke Aquaculture will be able to continue their operations through the remainder of their aquatic land leases. While the leases run their course over the next few years, perhaps Cooke Aquaculture could consider moving their operations to upland contained facilities in order to keep jobs intact. There are success stories of raising Atlantic Salmon upland such as Sustainable Blue and Kuterra. 

I don’t know about you, but we shouldn’t be raising Atlantics in open water netpens in the Puget Sound, period. Our wild salmon stocks don’t need another threat from Atlantics carrying disease, causing pollution from feces and pesticide treatments, or escapes and competing with food from Atlantics. Let’s prevent another Atlantic Salmon escapement by moving them out of our marine waters and onto land in order to protect jobs and our native salmon.

Karlee Deatherage

Sedro Woolley

Letters in the Cascadia Weekly, the Skagit Valley Herald, and the Seattle Times are worth checking out to get a sense for length, style, and personal voice.

Not sure where to start? RE Sources talented staff can provide pointers and tips on your LTE.