Print Media Basics
This training is geared at enhancing your understanding and confidence in writing effective letters to the editor and building key press relationships. Volunteers will learn key concepts like the LTE formula, the hierarchy of news items to respond to, and suggestions on how to connect to local issues that matter to their community.
This training is also part of the Core Volunteer Training series.
Why Work With Print Media?
- We know for sure that congressional offices pay close attention to local media, because it helps them keep their fingers on the “pulse” of their constituents, districts, and states. Pieces published in a local newspaper will grab the attention of a staff person or legislator, particularly if it mentions the member of Congress by name, so that’s one benefit.
- It also reaches a wide public audience---everyone who’s reading the newspaper, which in some metropolitan areas is millions of weekly readers.
- Overall, the point is to raise the profile of this topic. Every letter to the editor or op-ed that you submit, even if it isn’t published, signals to the newspaper that this is a newsworthy topic its readers are interested in. Your media outreach brings climate change and climate solutions more to the forefront of the conversation in your community, which helps build political will for action.
4,173 - The number of letters and op-eds CCL volunteers published in 2018. Amazing!
Writing Letters To The Editor
Opportunities For Writing
- Newspapers print letters that respond to articles in the newspaper.
- These articles are “Letters to the Editor opportunities.”
- Read the paper every day. Write promptly.
- For more depth in training advice, refer to Writing Effective Letters To The Editor training.
The News Hierarchy
Your letter has a better chance of getting published if you respond to something that was prominent in the newspaper. The news hierarchy shows you what is most important in the newspaper, down to the least important:
- Front page stories
- Staff-written columns
- Local op-eds
- Editorial cartoons
- Syndicated columnist
- Other letters to the editor
- Inside news stories
Strength In Numbers
- The volume of letters signals the community’s interest.
- If several LTEs are submitted focused on climate, the editor is more likely to run one.
The LTE Formula
- You want to open with a reference to the story you’re responding to, or a part of it. You could also include a short reference praising the writer or the paper itself.
- Reference a story from your newspaper or a topic that has been in the news that relates to climate change -- floods from extreme rainfall, risks to military bases, the cost of disaster recovery, or another climate impact on your region.
- Transition to how it relates to climate change and the need to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases that are making the situation worse.
- Pivot to the solution: The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which would place a steadily rising fee on carbon pollution and return all revenue to households equally. This bill, (a) is a market-based approach with bipartisan support, (b) will drive down carbon pollution while putting money in people’s pockets, (c) is good for business and will create jobs.
- Mention your members of Congress by name and that you would like them to support this important legislation.
- Close by saying it’s time to set aside partisan differences and, for the good of our nation and the world, start addressing the threat of climate change by enacting the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.
Tips To Remember
- Be respectful & conversational
- We don’t want to turn people off by writing in a way that raises “hot button” issues.
- Also, don’t lecture or regurgitate a laser talk.
- Be inspirational
- Be judicious with your doom and gloom. If you do give a dire warning, always couple it with a solution.
- Be strategic
- Mentioning your member of Congress by name can be very effective.
- If you do this, try to include values that resonate with that person.
- If incorporating messages about the Energy Innovation Act, follow the five main messages found in Communicating About the Energy Innovation Act training.
Form A Writing Team
1. Identify opportunities. Who identifies LTE opportunities in your group? If it’s only your group leader, consider forming an LTE writing team. One or two members can scan the paper regularly to identify writing opportunities.
2. Share with the team. Specified writing team members share LTE opportunities with the rest of the writing team. You can also share drafts of your letters with each other, or write together in person, if you want more support.
3. Get more published! With a dedicated team focused on reading the paper and writing in, your LTE numbers will skyrocket! Make sure someone in your team or your chapter is filing a field report about each letter you get published.
- For more information, see the Creating Writing Teams training.
Write An Op-Ed
An op-ed is, in many ways, just an extended letter to the editor, where you have more room to support your points.
- Pick your topic. You can write about something in the news, or something that should be. Make sure your topic is broad enough to warrant 500-700 words, but specific enough to be newsworthy.
- Research and outline. Read lots of other articles and stories about your topic so you’re as informed as possible. Then, make a six or seven-point outline of what you want to say.
- Get their attention. Suggest a clear, engaging headline under 8 words.Start with a catchy first line.
- Keep it locally focused. Drive it home with a call to action and a creative closer.
These days, papers are very short staffed, so if you suggest a fitting headline, they’ll often use it.
As you continue through the piece, take every opportunity to address the local angle of your topic. Consider local impacts of climate change and local opportunities of carbon fee and dividend. Then, drive things home with a call to action for Congress, asking your representative or Senators to support legislation like carbon fee and dividend. Just as with a letter to the editor, try to wrap up with something creative and catchy. Since this is a longer piece, you might include a summary sentence or two to emphasize your point.
To submit an op-ed, follow the paper’s guidelines. Generally you’ll be sending it to the opinion page editor, who you can identify from the paper’s website.
- For more information, see the Writing Op-Eds training.
Request An Editorial Meeting
To set up a meeting, first you’ll want to find out who the opinion page editor is. You can usually find that information from the newspaper’s “contact us” page, and just send them an email asking for a meeting. Just like with an LTE, keep an eye on the newspaper---especially the opinion page---and watch for something with a connection to climate change. When you see one, this is a great opening to send your email to the opinion page editor and reference that article. In your email, you can make the same kinds of connections that you do in an LTE: connect the topic to climate change, introduce our solution or some hope by mentioning the Climate Solutions Caucus, and then ask if your chapter could meet with the editorial board to discuss this topic more.
If you don’t hear back, follow up with a phone call and be prepared to leave a short voicemail.
- For more information see the Meeting With Editorial Boards training.
Send A Press Release
You’ll occasionally get templates from us at headquarters for local press releases you can personalize and send to your paper. We have one posted now that you can use to spread the word about local volunteers going to D.C. for November’s Congressional Education Day.
To prepare the press release, start by filling in the date and name of your city and state. There are spots to add a few sentences about your local impacts of climate change, as well as to attribute a quote to someone in your chapter. All of these areas are highlighted so it’s easy for you to see what to update, and then you can send it to your newspaper once you have it all updated. You can follow this general outline to create your own press releases about other events.
- For more information see the Writing Press Releases training.
Why Work With Print Media?
When to Write a LTE
The LTE Formula
Tips, Practice, and Media Writing Tips
Op-Eds and Editorials
Press Releases, Resources, and Wrap-up