Placing opinion pieces in local newspapers can be an influential way to insert your viewpoint into an ongoing conversation, or one you want to generate in the community. An op-ed is a newspaper article that expresses an opinion about an issue—typically one that’s currently in the news. The name op-ed comes from its usual location in the paper, opposite the editorial page. A letter to the editor (LTE) is just that—a letter written to a newspaper’s editor by a reader in order to respond to a previously published article.
Regardless of whether you’re successful at getting published in the news media, you can always communicate your views with your followers and others on social media. Start by following us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and sharing and commenting on our posts. You’ll find thousands of like-minded folks following our accounts, and you can get to know them through your shared passion for population stabilization!
Op-eds are most likely to be picked up for publication when there is a public debate or current news coverage of a particular issue. Make sure you submit your piece before it’s too late—news goes stale very fast. Here’s an op-ed that we had published on World Population Day 2022, for example.
Op-eds should clearly articulate the main point you’re making at the beginning of the piece (e.g. water scarcity in the American Southwest is increasing as the regional population swells). Go on to describe the issue in detail, citing (through hyperlinks) data and statistics you use (this makes fact checking easier for editors). Conclude with a clearly defined call to action (e.g. we must ensure that everyone, regardless of their income or place of residence, has access to family planning, in order to reduce the burden population growth places on fresh water resources). Many regional newspapers receive pieces with a national angle from newspaper syndicates, so it’s best to emphasize a local/regional angle if possible.
Newspapers have different word count requirements for op-eds, but in general it is best to keep them between 600 and 700 words. Check the papers’ websites for information about word count requirements. Always include your credentials and contact information, as most publications will require verbal or written verification that you have authored the piece. If your piece isn’t published within a week or so, you could consider submitting it to another newspaper, but it’s best practice to only submit pieces to newspapers one at a time, since some outlets require exclusivity of content.
Letters to the editor are most likely to be accepted when they are written in response to a recently published article or editorial and either point out an alternate perspective or highlight/strengthen the original piece.
LTEs should be brief, focused, and direct. Trying to cover several topics and making too many points reduces letters’ impact, so try to keep to one subject if possible. This is especially important because of typical length requirements. Newspapers have different word counts for LTEs, but it’s best to keep them as succinct as possible (usually between 150 and 200 words).
Always include your credentials and contact information, as most publications will require verbal or written verification that you have authored the piece. As with op-eds, timing is everything—news goes stale very fast, so submit LTEs as quickly as possible. Your best shot at consideration is to have something submitted within 48 hours, and most papers won’t even accept letters that refer to articles or editorials that are more than a week old. Take a look at letters that have already been published by the paper in question to see what they have in common and how you might emulate the aspects of each letter that likely led to its publication.
Each newspaper has different LTE submission guidelines. Be sure to check the paper’s website for specific guidance. Usually, papers prefer that LTEs be pasted into the body of an email (rather than sent as an attachment) to an address specifically designated for LTEs.
Social media allows you to publicly pressure, persuade, and thank your target, while informing your followers at the same time.
When drafting posts, it’s best to balance information with a conversational tone, and always tag the relevant newspaper, journalist, or elected official. On Twitter, it’s important to know the different between tweeting at someone and tweeting about them. If you want to send a message directly to someone and don’t mind that the tweet would not be visible to all followers, you would write something like:
@POTUS, thank you for rescinding the awful #GlobalGagRule and restoring funding to #UNFPA. These actions will save lives, empower women and girls, and promote sustainable development 🙌
However, if you wanted to tweet to your followers, you would need to put at least one character in front of the person’s handle. For example:
Join me in thanking @POTUS for rescinding the awful #GlobalGagRule and restoring funding to #UNFPA. These actions will save lives, empower women and girls, and promote sustainable development 🙌
Save valuable characters (you only get 280 on Twitter), tidy up your posts, and track click-throughs with bit.ly or ow.ly. You can also use giphy.com if you want to tag up to 10 additional users in an image or gif.
Finally, get your tweets in front of reporters, policy-makers, and other advocates by using relevant hashtags (e.g. #WorldPopulation, #FamilyPlanning, #GlobalGlobalGag, etc).