Most newspapers, magazines and journals, dedicate the first couple of pages of their publication to presenting letters sent by their readership in response to certain articles or features. LTEs can be found in both large and small publications.Ostensibly, LTEs are a mechanism through which newspapers present strong public opinions from impassioned and often eloquent readers.Publications typically display supportive and critical letters for each article to continue public discourse on the subject, draw readers back to previous issues, allow readers to correct a misrepresentation, and demonstrate that they appreciate their readers. Though the line between a LTE and an op-ed (“opposite of an editorial”) are increasingly being blurred, traditionally, the key distinction between the two has to do with length and whether or not the piece is solicited or not. LTEs are shorter than op-eds — usually under 150 words vs. 500+ words. LTEs are unsolicited, while op-eds are solicited by the publication to oppose the position of the editorial board.In the past, LTEs were commonly used as a communications tactic, but they have somewhat lost their place in contemporary news media. That is not to say that they are obsolete, but that they are limited in scope. LTEs are usually associated with print media, but the Internet is now a common delivery system for many LTEs via e-mail and news Web sites. (In fact, after several envelopes containing a powder suspected to be anthrax were mailed to lawmakers and journalists, several news organizations announced they would only accept e-mail LTEs.)They are also sometimes featured in broadcast news segments such as on CBS’ 60 Minutes and National Public Radio.
Here is a parody of 60 Minutes’ letters-to-the-editor segment: Option 1 (Mr. B. Richards): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxxmJuixjyw&feature=relmfuOption 2 (Dear Liz): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02XEu_N7WKU&feature=relatedOption 3 (Hornet’s nest, etc.): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1I79LI6jig&feature=related
Like other tactics, LTEs have both pros and cons.On the pros side:LTEs can reach a sizeable audience at almost no cost: Besides time, there’s virtually no cost to an organisation or individual for submitting a LTE. The cost to distribute the message is borne entirely by the publication. At the same time, the media can reach very large numbers of people. For example, Time magazine — the world’s largest weekly circulation news magazine — has a readership of 25 million worldwide (20 million in the US) (Wikipedia). Here in Canada, The Globe and Mail has a weekday readership of more than 1 million (Print Measurement Bureau, Fall 2012), and a study conducted by the Newspaper Audience Databank (or NADbank) found that 8 out of 10 Canadians read a newspaper at least once a week. Plus, the LTE section is among the most widely read features of newspapers and magazines.LTEs can promote public awareness and debate on an issue: They have been part of the political and social discourse since the mid-18th century. They can help an organisation tap into the strength of the media to raise awareness and mobilize public opinion.LTEs can help keep an issue that is important to the organisation in the media: LTEs can motivate other readers to submit LTEs on the same issue, or journalists to write follow-on articles in response. Targeting longer-lived media (relative to newspapers, that is) such as monthly magazines is one way to prolong the message.Finally, LTEs help to keep the organisation’s name in the public and can help raise its profile: By connecting an organisation to a specific issue, LTEs can build name recognition and bring attention to the activities of an organisation.Despite these benefits, LTEs also have some shortfalls:Lack of control:Because LTEs go through a filter of journalists and editors, organisations/individuals can lose control over their message. The LTE might be positioned alongside an opposing view, and only portions of the letter may be used. Due to the large number of letters sent into publications, the LTE may not get published at all. With LTEs, it is difficult to target the organisation’s message to a specific audience: The readership demographics of newspapers, journals and magazines vary by publication, but many tend to have older, more affluent audiences than other media sources. This may not necessarily be the target for the organisation’s message. Finally, LTEs are somewhat one-dimensional: LTEs fall in the genre of “traditional media” and are not as “in your face” as some other communications tactics. And it typically is just that — a communications tool. It doesn’t have direct applications to marketing or fundraising.
There are a number of media relations toolkits for NGOs out there that speak to how to write an effective letter to the editor. Some of the characteristics of a good LTE that they highlight include:Succinct but persuasive or informative: Publishers have guidelines on how to submit a letter to the editor. Most, including the Globe and Mail and theNew York Times, require that letters be no longer than 150 words. But publications sometimes waive normal word limits for writers who are authorities on their topics. And it goes without saying that editors will reject letters that contain libelous statements or personal attacks against individuals or specific organisations, or that have been submitted anonymously.Balance of fact and emotion: The most attention grabbing LTEs tend to be those that use both statistics and anecdotes/stories to make a point.Not just critical, but offer solutions: A LTE that is critical of a position or issue is most effective when it offers solutions or provides readers with the tools to take the next step. Timely and relevant: Especially with newspapers and weekly journals, organisations need to take rapid action to ensure that it responds on an issue while it’s still hot.Audience appropriate: Good LTEs are audience appropriate, but targeting a LTE to a specific audience is difficult. However, if a particular story is covered by many newspapers or journals, the organisation could pick the one that is most appropriate in terms of its communications strategy. (Many of the larger newspapers and journals will not accept LTEs that have been submitted to other publications.) Regardless, the tone and style of the letter should suit the publication’s audience.Given that objectives of LTEs can vary, there is no single measure of success. However, one general sign of success is that it actually gets published! In each edition, publications typically feature only 6 to 12 of the LTEs that they receive.Another potential sign of success is that the letter helps to prolong discussion of the issue of concern to the organisation. Of course this doesn’t apply to LTEs with a purpose to correct an error, for instance; but it is relevant when the organisation is writing in to oppose a proposed action that relates to its activities.
Thailand's Patent Damage by Roger Bate (American Enterprise Institute) – The New York Sun (April 3, 2007)Issue: Thailand is "breaking patents” on HIVand heart disease drugsBackground:Roger Bate is the author of a paper entitled “Thailand and the Drug Patent Wars” that was published by the American Enterprise Institute where he is a resident fellowThailand’s government intends to have its local drug company manufacture HIV and heart disease medicines (low prices, poor quality)Activists, like MSF, and 22 members of the American Congress, are praising Thailand’s actionAt a WTO meeting in January 2007, an economic adviser from Thailand’s Ministry of Health declared that, in the event of an avian flu pandemic, Thailand “will consider preventing foreign nationals from leaving the country until and unless developed nations share their stockpiles of vaccines and anti-virals”Biggest response from affected drug company (Abbot Laboratories) consists of terminating the launch of new drugs in ThailandOther Asian countries and the Western world is "keeping an eye" on Thailand's movesPosition:Americans must defend what's theirs (aka the drug patents)MSF and like-minded activist organisations are on the wrong side of the issue (i.e., they believe medicines should be public goods and don’t consider the consequences)Arguments:Move is short-sightedSaves the Thai government at most only $24 million Potential negative affect on future supplies of new medicinesDamage to the country’s annual growth because of retaliation by Western countries and corporations (e.g., trade barriers, investment)Officials from Thailand's dictatorship are benefiting on the domestic drug productionMilitary government is profit-driven vs. actually wanting to improve access to health careThailand's Ministry of Health might not have consulted the rest of the government, who wouldn't want to negatively affectthe investment-friendly climateA deal between Thailand and drug companies for cheaper medicine might be possibleSanofi-Aventis is willing to lower price on heart medicine that had it's patent “broken"
Patent Lies: Letter to the Editor by David Wilson, MSF Medical Coordinator in Thailand– The New York Sun (April 12, 2007)Position:Roger Bate’s op-ed is not based on factKey Points/Arguments:Thailand is acting on advice from renowned institutions, like the World Bank, not "radical members of the anti-patent movement", as it's written on the article200,000 are affected by HIV/AIDS in ThailandMedicine for AIDS in Thailand is expensiveThailand’s actions don’t fall under “patent busting” according to the World Trade Organization's rules — the country determines ground for compulsory licenseUnder compulsory license, an individual/company can use a patent without seeking the patent holder’s consent. The individual/company pays the patent holder a set fee for the license.The United States did five compulsory licenses from June 2006 to March 2007Either flexibilities built on international agreements are encouraged or people that can't afford medicine die
Letters to the editor team #5 (final)
Presented by:Cristine Do E. Santo Nuria Elkout Eric Pires Jasmina Savkovic Sugi Vasavithasan
Agenda• Definition• Objectives & application• Real-world examples• Pros & cons• Best practices• Case study 2
What is a LTE?• A letter to the editor (LTE) is a letter sent to the editor of a publication to comment on a specific article or opinion that recently appeared in the same publication.• While typically associated with print media, LTEs can also be found in electronic media (e.g., online publications, broadcast journalism). 3
Why Write a LTE?• Letters to the editor are a communications tactic that can be used to: – Support or criticise articles/op-eds that relate to the organisation’s activities or interests – Educate or inform the public on a specific matter – Stimulate or influence action or discussion – Bring attention to the work of the organisation – Establish the organisation as an authority on a particular issue – Correct an error, inaccuracy or misrepresentation 5
Example 1: Population ConnectionNY Times Article:• Condemns forced abortions in China and the coercive one-child policyLetter to the Editor:• Supports the article’s position• Informs about the lack of access to appropriate, affordable contraceptives 6
Example 2: No LabelsNY Times Op-Ed:• Criticizes the US Congress for their failure to pass bills in a timely wayLetter to the Editor:• Supports the op-ed’s position• Attempts to build public support for No Labels’ proposed ―No Budget, No Pay Act‖ to remedy gridlock on Capitol Hill 7
Example 3: Blue Cross & Blue ShieldsNY Times Editorial:• Features Southcentral Foundation in Alaska as an innovative model for improving health care quality while cutting the cost of treatmentLetter to the Editor:• Draws attention to Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s own innovative activities 8
Example 4: Marcellus Shale CoalitionNY Times Op-Ed:• Argues against the practice of drilling for gasLetter to the Editor:• Counters arguments in the op-ed• Attempts to influence public opinion on New York’s proposed natural gas development regulations for the Marcellus Shale 9
Example 5: Human Rights WatchScience Magazine Article:• Reports on findings of experiments involving drug users in ChinaLetter to the Editor:• Questions the researchers’ adherence to ethical standards in carrying out the study 10
Example 6: Sierra ClubThe Packet Article:• Features a local initiative to build and operate a wind turbineLetter to the Editor:• Supports the article and provides more information about the benefits of wind energy resources• Advocates for more wind farms in Newfoundland and Labrador 11
What are the Pros and Cons? Pros Cons• Cost-effective way to • Lack of control reach a sizeable • Difficult to target audience message• Can help promote public awareness and debate on • One-dimensional an issue• Can help keep an issue in the media• Can raise the profile of the organisation 12
What Makes a LTE Successful?• A strong LTE is: – Succinct but persuasive or informative – Balanced in terms of fact and emotion – Not just critical, but offers solutions – Timely and relevant – Audience appropriate• Potential measures of success: – Gets published – Garners attention — e.g., follow-on articles, LTEs from other readers, picked up at political level 13
Case Study: BackgroundIssue:• Thailand is ―breaking patents‖ on HIV and heart disease drugsNew York Sun Op-Ed (3 April 2007):• Roger Bate, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, takes the position that: – Americans must defend what’s theirs (i.e., drug patents) – Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and like-minded ―activist‖ organisations are on the wrong side of the debate (i.e., believe medicines should be public goods) 14
Case Study: MSF’s LTEsMSF’s Response:• Submitted LTEs to The New York Sun, as well as The Wall Street Journal, which ran a related articleKey Points:• Thailand’s actions are: – Based on advice from institutions such as the World Bank – Consistent with WTO rules on compulsory licenses• The US also issues compulsory licenses• Either flexibilities built on international agreements are encouraged or people that can’t afford drugs die 15
Case Study: Results• MSF’s LTE was published in The New York Sun, but not in the Wall Street Journal – The published letter was accompanied by a reply from Mr. Bate• MSF’s letter demonstrates several features of a good LTE: – Short and attention grabbing – Balances facts and sentiment – Audience appropriate 16
Conclusion• LTEs are a cost-effective tactic that organisations can use to achieve their communications goals.• While the subject matter and intent of LTEs vary, they can generally help to inform and influence public opinion on issues relevant to the organisation. 17
References• Amon, Joseph J, ―Letters to the Editor of Science Magazine,‖ Science Magazine, 18 Apr 2012, <http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/04/18/letter-editors-science-magazine> [accessed 29 Sept 2012]• Bate, Roger, ―Op-Ed: Thailand’s Patent Damage,‖ The New York Sun, 3 Apr 2007, <http://www.nysun.com/opinion/thailands-patent-damage/51679/> [accessed 28 Sept 2012]• Cohn, Rebecca and Kathryn White, ―Understanding and Engaging the Media for NGOs,‖ United Nations Association in Canada, 2007, <www.unac.org.> [accessed 24 Sept 2012]• Dixon, Brian, ―Letter to the Editor, Forced Abortion in China,‖ International Herald Tribune, 29 Jul 2012, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/opinion/forced-abortion- in-china.html?ref=letters> [accessed 28 Sept 2012] 19
References (cont’d)• Feyer, Thomas, ―From the Letters Editor: Our Compact, Updated‖, The New York Times, 23 May 2004, <http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/23/opinion/23READ.html> [accessed 29 Sept 2012]• Fournier, Christophe, ―Letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal,‖ MSF, 12 Mar 2007, <http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/publications/article.cfm?id=1957&cat=o pen-letters> [accessed 28 September 2012]• Klaber, Kathryn Z., ―Should Fracking Be Part of Our Energy Future,‖ The New York Times, 31 Aug 2012, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/01/opinion/should-fracking- be-part-of-our-energy-future.html?ref=letters> [accessed 28 Sept 2012]• Nagy, Jenette (contributor), ―Writing Letters to the Editor,‖ The Community Tool Box, Working Group for Community and Health Development at the University of Kansas, 2012, <http://ctb.ku.edu/en/tablecontents/sub_section_main_1239.aspx> [accessed 21 September 2012] 20
References (cont’d)• Schwartz, Nancy, ―How to Write a Letter to the Editor that Gets Published and Read,‖ Getting Attention! Helping Non-Profits Succeed Through Effective Marketing, 2012, <http://gettingattention.org/articles/176/media-relations- press/writing-guidelines-letter-to-the-editor.html> [accessed 21 Sept 2012]• Serota, Scott P., ―Health Quality and Costs,‖ The New York Times, 2 Aug 2012, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/03/opinion/health-quality-and- costs.html?ref=letters> [accessed 28 Sept 2012]• Staff, ―Newspaper print readership base increases,‖ The Globe and Mail, 27 Sept 2012, <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/newspaper-print- readership-base-increases/article4573402/?cmpid=rss1> [accessed 29 Sept 2012]• Staff, ―Bangkok’s Drug War Goes Global,‖ Wall Street Journal, 7 Mar 2007, <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB117322181443628799.html> [accessed 27 Sept 2012] 21
References (cont’d)• Walker, Dave, ―How to Make Congress Do Its Job: No Budget, No Pay,‖ The New York Times, 9 Aug 2012, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/10/opinion/how-to-make- congress-do-its-job-no-budget-no-pay.html?ref=letters> [accessed 28 Sept 2012]• Wikipedia contributors, ―Letter to the Editor," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 31 Jul 2012, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_to_the_editor> [accessed 28 Sept 2012]• Wilson, David, ―Patent Lies: Letter to the Editor of the New York Sun,‖ The New York Sun, 12 Apr 2007, <http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/publications/article.cfm?id=2039> [accessed 28 Sept 2012]• Windsor, Fred, ―Letter to the Editor, Re: Blowing in the Wind,‖ The Packet, 10 May 2012, <http://www.sierraclub.ca/en/in-the-news/letter-blowing-in-the-wind> [accessed 28 Sept 2012] 22