WRITING A LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Letters to the Editor pages of local and city newspapers are a great way of getting the environment issue out there. Most readers go to the Letters pages to see what ‘real people’ are saying rather than tame journos. If letters are short and snappy, they’re more likely to get read than long-winded ones.
Click here to read a sample of the favourite myths that the logging industry spreads and our replies (TWS and EEG). You may wish to use our responses when writing letters.
- Stick to one or at most two points per letter.
- Be concise. Edit it down once you’ve written it. Try to write as if you’re speaking to a 10 year old - that way everyone can understand without too much brain work.
- Who is the readership - Herald-Sun and local papers – need fairly dumbed-down letters, The Age and The Australian – assume a level slightly higher but still simplify. Even for academic readers you should keep it simple and to the point.
- You can add some humour, colour or colloquialisms into the letter. This adds ‘spice’ and interest.
- You can also put in less than 50 word opinions in the short section. Though if your letter is the shortest in the letters page you can guarantee it will be the most read. Often a point can be better made in two sentences - and remembered by the reader - than in four paragraphs.
- Tie your letters into a current news event. If there’s a story of an owl, write about the forest owls plight. Or if there’s a water issue currently on the boil, tie it in to the loss of water from logging.
- Use plain simple words that everyone can understand. Use shorter sentences.
- No exclamation marks or swearing.
- Emailed letters are better. Always add your full name, address(not a PO box) and phone number - not for publishing but, the editors want to be able to contact you if they need to and without this info, your letter will be turfed before it is even read. If you send it to a number of papers, never send it to all at once. Send the letter as a separate email to all papers.
- Get your letter off before midday if possible. Letters Editors like to get the page finalised early for the next day.
- Remember that opinions expressed in papers like the Herald-Sun and Weekly Times are those that the government takes the most notice of. The H/Sun also has far more readers than the Age. So go for the ‘light brown’ readers as well.
Letters to the Editor...
The Herald Sun - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Age - email@example.com
MX magazine - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Australian - email@example.com
The Canberra Times - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Sydney Morning Herald - email@example.com
The West Australian - firstname.lastname@example.org
Hobart Mercury - email@example.com
Write, call or email...
State politicians - at Parliament House Spring St Melbourne, 3000 or the Federal politicians at Parliament House Canberra ACT, 2600.
Also please write letters to the major papers or your local regional newspapers - or both. But remember to send them off separately; they don’t like to think your letter has also gone to five other places as well.
The major papers like issues that are on the boil, letters that are short and sweet, humorous or thoughts that are cleverly put. Include your address and daytime phone number so they can make sure you’re a real person.
Even easier - ring up talkback shows and tell it like it is - express some emotion or personal thoughts rather than just facts and figures.
The government is always looking to letters and talkback to monitor the mood of the public.
For those who’ve never spoken to/emailed their MP ...
The below ‘five tips on how to lobby an MP and not be ignored’ comes from an MP who was bombarded about an issue. It makes a lot of sense.
"This morning I awoke to find 43 unread emails about the issue of access to homebirth for Australian women on my blackberry. By the time I was on the train into the office this had grown to nearly 100 and continues to grow." The campaign, although worthy, was a text book example of what not to do to get the attention of an MP and expect them to take some positive action on your behalf.
"Having spoken to a number of my colleagues this morning who have also received these exact same emails, here are 5 tips on how to lobby MPs and not be ignored"
Tip #1: If you are going to send emails, include where you live.
MPs are elected geographically. They have a democratic responsibility to respond to those that live in the area they represent. If you send a form letter that does not include the postcode or even the state that you live in, MPs can and will ignore it.
Tip #2: If you want your email read and responded to - original is better.
When my blackberry filled up this morning with exactly the same email I did two things. I set up a rule so the emails are diverted into a folder that I won't look at again. I then drafted a standard response for automatic reply. For many MPs they will simply delete.
Send an original email, in most cases you will get a considered response in reply.
Tip #3: Be clear about what action you want the MP to take in response to your contact.
A general call to do the right thing lets the MP off the hook and means your time and theirs has been wasted. Always ask the MP to take action on your behalf. Be specific.
You can ask MPs to: raise the issue in parliament, write to the person responsible for making the decision that will help fix the problem, respond to you with their views on the issue and/or what action they have taken in response to your contact. You can also ask to have a meeting with you to further discuss the issue.
Tip #4: Make sure that what you are asking is something the MP can actually do.
Before you press send (or if you are developing a website for a campaign), find out who is responsible for making the decision that will fix/address your issue. Knowing the answers to these questions will increase your chances of the email getting to the best person who can take action on your behalf: In what jurisdiction does your issue fall? What action is required to address my issue? Does your issue require legislation? Can the Minister make a decision to change a policy and have it implemented?
As an example, asking a state MP to fix something that is the responsibility of the federal government will result in your email being ignored or flicked back to you.
Tip #5: Do your research and target.
If I receive an email that I can see has gone to every MP in Australia. I ignore it. On any given issue your first contact should be: your local MP, the relevant Minister, the relevant Shadow Minister plus others whose opinion you are trying to sway.
If you or the organisation running the campaign website, have done the research you will also know which MPs are already supportive of your cause and those that it is not even worth bothering to talk to about your issue. Target those with power and those you need to persuade. For those who are supportive enlist them to help you make the argument to their undecided colleagues. Don't be afraid to ask your supportive MPs who they think you should be targeting on your issue.
Sometimes email campaigns are a way that MPs get a sense of the public mood of any issue. Volume can be important and does have its place but if you actually want engagement on an issue, bombarding MPs with form emails and/or letters is considered very low value constituent contact and the time you spent sending it is wasted as it will often be deleted.