Why write a Letter to the Editor?
These have long been a popular and widely read section of newspapers and magazines. Like digital social media platforms, they get a lot of attention from politicians and their staffers. And we all lead busy lives; a letter to the editor has often taught me something about an issue I didn’t clearly understand, or shown me a perspective I hadn’t thought about. They can also inspire and make a call to action; a rallying cry in the Town Square.
How to write a Letter to the Editor
Strike while the iron is hot! Watch for issues in the news, and respond to them promptly. Ideally, in the Subject line of your email, quote the title of their own article on the subject and the author, or at least the date of publication. Reply to and rebut the article if you can.
You probably only have a day or two
Even if an issue is front page news, the window of opportunity will close, and then even the most eloquent letter will get hit by the Delete button.
Keep it brief
Would you like the Editor to choose which lines to chop away? If not, then do it yourself. 250 words is the typical limit. The Globe and Mail prefers under 150.
You don’t have to be an expert!
The Letters page is The People’s Page. To a large degree, it’s local. Readers expect and want to hear what their neighbors think and feel. It’s often valuable to mention your line of work; some readers will relate to it, others will simply credit you for being a taxpayer like them. If you cannot work and are on AISH, it can be powerful to say why; most people are capable of empathy and that in itself can increase their openness to your message. Some letters will be calm and measured, some will capture attention with humour or clever use of locally understood references, others will be indignant and fed up. Your own voice, experience and writing style will carry weight. In a city like Calgary, which for decades has been a core and a fountain of climate denial, it can also be helpful to point out with data and evidence that the world is moving on beyond oil and gas.
Remember, however, you’re not preaching to the choir of climate activists, but to people whose livelihoods, mortgage payments and school fees might have been paid for by oil companies.
One attention-getting quote that I’ve used is from General Eric Shinseki, former Chief of Staff in the US Army, who said “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” Quote and refer to credible people in science, economics, finance or technology; look for those messages that might sway a Calgarian who considers him or herself smart and open-minded but who, until Greta Thunberg showed up in the news, never thought much about climate change.