-- some suggestions on using these "local media contacts" address lists, and on submitting a "letter to the editor" to any smalltown or local community paper --
Lists of periodicals always are taking aim at moving targets: newspapers notoriously move around, change addresses, go into and out of business, combine with other newspapers -- always have, always will, nature of the beast... now made immeasurably more complicated by the Internet, on which news source "URLs" forever are inaccurate or out-of-date...
So, verify address details by foning the paper, before you write, on these as on any other address lists.
Mass mailings are inappropriate anyway, to these mostly smalltown and local community folks, who will "file13" anything they receive which looks like the normal electionyear campaignjunk. Little hardworking outfits do not have the staff, or the time or the patience, to read such stuff.
The best thing to send to the editor of a little local paper -- who does want to print your item, more than a big paper would -- is something personalized, sent only to them or apparently so, and even better something having some sort of local reference or special appeal. Editors are thinking, a) local subscriptions, and b) local customers for local advertisers, in that order, and nothing else: not "politics", not "making the world safe for democracy", not "saving humanity", nothing else but "subscriptions and advertisers"... or usually...
1) Send editors letters they'll want to print.
* Fone the paper first: verify the "letters to the editor" address, and that they in fact are interested in printing "letters to the editor";
* Local is better: try to "tie in" your letter to something local -- either live there yourself, or be "from" there, or have an Aunt Marge who still lives there, or have made a recent visit there, or mention some local event or issue or recent story which appeared in their own paper, or something your own community is doing which might interest them, and include all of this in your letter;
* Use "Dear Editor", not personal name: smalltown editors particularly tend to be incredibly suspicious of Bigtown condescension, whether that comes in the form of name-dropping or high-falutin' language or strange foreign addresses -- they dislike "Dear Joe" from someone who doesn't really know them, as much as they dislike "Dear Editor" from someone who really does -- so if you don't really know them, use "Dear Editor";
* Use some "odd angle" to make your letter stand out: not that this editor has a pile of stuff waiting to be printed, necessarily, but any editor's eye will be caught by the "odd" item -- just "election campaign" may be a yawn, unless your letter is postmarked Ouagadougou or Antarctica -- but if you send your letter about a local issue which the paper itself featured just the other week, for example, tying that in to some Campaign proposal, perhaps...
2) Keep It Short. (The following is advice received from a very tough writing teacher, long ago, imperfectly followed but always remembered: his "rules of 3's" --)
* Short Words -- 3 syllables max.
* Short Sentences -- 3 words (see above) max. (no kidding: subject -- predicate -- object -- and no modifiers... advice "imperfectly followed but always remembered", like I said...)
* Short Paragraphs -- 3 sentences (see above) max.
* Single Page -- for this, look at some examples in the newspaper to which you'll be writing. Some like longer letters, some shorter, some soundbites at most. Whatever you send, they'll edit; so try to lead off with a punchy paragraph containing all of your important points, as this may be the only thing they'll print. But some may want you to go on for a bit and fill space, so be sure to check examples in the paper itself.
3) Get Real. Smalltown newspapers are like TV reality shows: the supermarket burned down, the pig got out and trashed Main Street, the local team won / lost / tied... They don't want generalities: about politics or anything else. So tell them about a "real" event: some news item -- hopefully local to them, or related-to-local, or at least similar-to-local -- which illustrates why their folks might get excited about the same sort of thing. Returning Vets, for instance: how they are treated in your community, well or badly, and how you hope they are treated elsewhere... Healthcare Problems of the Elderly: your own town's experience, and questions about how their town does it... Other "political agenda" issues of The Campaign, maybe, but always related to the Editor's locality: farming questions, immigration pressures, urban sprawl and traffic problems -- all towns have these, and The Campaign has positions on all of them, or it ought to.
4) Get Sincere. Make it first-person -- "you" writing to "them" -- if I get any more "anonymous" or, worse, "collective" letters from some huge bureaucracy somewhere, in this information-overloaded election year or any other... Billl Clinton's "voice" has got to stop foning me... And forget those letters which "The Democratic Party" writes, with the only return address on them being one for "donations": so much for dialog, democratic or otherwise... Give local folks a return address: so they'll know, if they take the trouble to read your letter, that you'll take the trouble to read their reply -- if you can get them to reply to you, we are virtually guaranteed that they will become interested enough to vote, too, in November 2012 -- and that's what we all need, now.
p.s. Postal mail versus email, for "letters-to-the-editor": I find that less than 50% of these smalltown folks have Websites and email addresses, at least that they advertise -- and the accuracy on those advertised runs about 50% at best. So I would suggest that unless a paper requires that you submit via email or on their Website "electronic form", that those even if submitted may not get read -- the "webmasters" are not The Editors -- better to send an old-fashioned & personalized snailmail postal letter than an email, still, unless they say they really do not want that.
"Guidelines for Letters to the Editor"
-- that is pretty typical, of any smalltown newspaper editor, even if they or their new & young webmasters don't really say it -- so, keep it short, get real, get sincere, and send them something they'll want to print (for all of this see above) -- no "mass mailings", and forget "Dear Voter" -- and they'll be happy to print it... and they are what folks read, in Baker City Oregon...
I figure, myself, that if any party really is serious about "taking the country back" or "holding onto it", this year or any year , then this is the very best way of reaching all those folks who really do make up "the country"... folks who time, and both parties, sort of forgot during many elections...
Normal people, in smalltowns or big city neighborhoods or wherever, don't read the New York Times or the WashPost, anyway -- those two get read by small coastal elites in SF & LA & NYC & DC, plus a few other tiny enclaves, they're not even read by people in "California" or "New York State". But people everywhere do read their local papers... in the laundromat, standing in line in the grocery store, waiting while the car mechanic finishes up, at the playground, on the bus... They want the news which Really Matters: did Johnny's baseball victory get in? is Kate's soccer team score on the sports page? what was that weird noise Saturday night downtown? All that is the real news. Where else can you get it? The TV news is just Infotainment.
Most papers want this: a couple of them specifically have told me they require it, in the past -- that they would not print anything which did not show a return address -- and I would guess most editors would at least be leery of any letter which comes in without a return address on it. And we all want it, really: "voter turnout" is the name of the game -- it was by far the biggest problem in the Gore election in 2000 -- so I figure any citizen who gets interested enough to reply to your letter is a citizen who will become interested enough to get out & vote, too, in November... and to get others to vote...
I use a PO Box. That would be my own suggestion to anyone, nowadays: nothing more to fear, really, for the average person, than mountains of 4th class mail -- altho nowadays that really can get into mountains.
Here's some sensible advice, I believe, from the Manchester Union Leader on this "anonymity" topic:
"Letters in which the writer requests his or her name be withheld will be published only if, in the editor's judgment, there is good reason to do so and if the letter is not critical of another by name. We feel that someone criticized by name has the right to know the identity of the critic."
Not dumb, and answer is "it depends". You do need some sort of local-link: some local issue or event or person or discussion. But no I don't think you have to be "from" the area yourself to get your letter printed. Lots of vacationers write letters which get printed.
I'd suggest reading a couple of back issues of the newspaper to which you are writing, if you can find a website or other back issues source, and then responding in your letter to some story or discussion which they themselves printed previously. Most papers everywhere are carrying some sort of election news, now... So your reader interest from "far away", in their own previous story, might be the link which catches the editor's attention.
Great places -- I'll add them in -- please send any other suggestions, omissions, questions, whatever, to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There isn't a small neighborhood or smalltown in America which doesn't have some sort of local daily blatt, continually starving for news and which people actually read, which would be happy to print a good letter from somebody about this upcoming election... so write to "Pigeon Forge Tennessee", "Hell's Kitchen Manhattan"...
W3 site maintained at: http://www.well.com/~kessler/Localm/
Document maintained by: Jack Kessler, email@example.com
Last update: September 5, 2012