It’s been called the column that gets people talking. Open any newspaper or magazine and you’re bound to find several "letters to the editor." These letters express views on previously published articles, editorials, letters, or other features in a newspaper, magazine, or other publication. They provide people and organizations an opportunity to talk with each other and reach a broad section of the public with their messages.
Letters to the editor can be used to correct misinformation, state a difference of opinion, promote an issue, or support a previously expressed view. Some surveys show that letters to the editor are the most widely read features of any newspaper.
Tip 1: Type the letter on letterhead (Chapter or hospital), and include your name, title, and contact information. Sign your letter, because editors won’t publish anonymous letters. Your title and affiliation will give you credibility and increase the likelihood your letter will be published. Include both day and evening telephone numbers. Being accessible increases the chance your letter will be published.
Tip 2: Capture the editor with a compelling first sentence. Editors decide quickly whether or not they want to print a letter. They may never read the letter in its entirety.
Tip 3: Put yourself in the letter, and use personal anecdotes. Tell a personal story. For example, "As an emergency physician at [NAME OF HOSPITAL], and member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, I know firsthand that…
Tip 4: Avoid medical jargon, and use correct grammar and spelling.
Editors are more likely to print a letter if it is well written and doesn’t require extensive editing.
Tip 5: Keep the letter brief, yet punchy. Most newspapers have limited space for letters. Keeping your message concise will increase your chance of it getting published.
Tip 6: Use statistics, but put the figures in understandable terms. For example, "Nearly 100 million emergency department visits will be made this year, that's approximately one in three Americans."
Tip 7: Anticipate your letter will be cut. Make sure you lead with your most important points and include a strong message in each paragraph.
Tip 8: Use examples that relate to local readers. Editors are more likely to print letters with a local angle.
Don’t be discouraged if your first letter isn’t printed. It sometimes takes several attempts before a letter is published. See an example of a letter to the editor in the Appendix.
Turn to the editorial page of your daily newspaper, and you’ll be sure to find several editorials (brief opinion pieces), covering key issues of the day. The newspaper’s editorial board is comprised of editorial page staff and the senior editors who write editorials to express opinions about current issues. The position a newspaper takes on an issue is a collective decision made by the editorial board.
Individuals or groups can seek to persuade an editor or editorial board to do an editorial on their issue or concern. The first step is to send a pitch letter. Present a point of view the editors may not have considered. Find a different angle to a story that’s currently in the news. Explain how the issue affects the newspaper’s readers.
Your pitch letter should build credibility. Editors will be interested in knowing you’re a specialist in emergency medicine, that you have strong ties to the community, and that your Chapter represents most of the emergency physicians in your state. Remind them you confront medical and social problems in your emergency department and have a firsthand understanding of medical and health issues in the community. Give examples! Be descriptive and back up anecdotes with statistics.
Your next step is to call the editor(s). Follow up your letter with a telephone call. Offer to answer questions or provide additional information. (For tips on contacting the news media, see the Chapter on .Interviews..)
Finally, you may want to meet with the editorial board. An editorial board meeting is a scheduled meeting in which the editorial staff discusses what will be published on the editorial page. It also is an opportunity for editorial staff to meet with outside representatives to discuss timely issues that ultimately could be published as editorials.
The executive editor or editor usually is responsible for scheduling these meetings.
Editorial board meetings are excellent ways to educate the media, but before you call an editor to schedule a meeting, prepare. Start by contacting your hospital’s public relations department or ACEP's Public Relations Department to discuss your plans. Next, consider the following questions:
If you do a persuasive job of educating the editorial staff, your point of view probably will be discussed in the editorial, even if the newspaper ultimately sides with your opponent. In addition, you’ll have educated a number of influential editors about emergency medicine and established yourself as a source.
The New York Times invented the "op-ed" page (the newspaper page opposite the editorial page) in 1970. Since then, op-ed pieces have become a popular, and powerful, communication tool and are regular features of nearly every newspaper. Op-eds are opinion pieces, similar to editorials, but written by many kinds of people, including elected officials and community leaders like you.
Emergency physicians can use op-ed pieces to help influence public opinion and policymakers on issues important to emergency medicine. By explaining an issue’s importance to the community, you can help put the issue on the .political agenda.. And by recommending a course of action, you can help shape health care policy decisions.
Op-eds don’t need national placement to generate national support. For example, congressional staff monitors local press stories to determine grassroots support or opposition to proposals. Opinion pieces are important to lawmakers because they reflect the viewpoints of constituents.
Why would readers of a local newspaper be interested in your point of view? As an emergency physician, you:
The following tips are for writing and submitting op-ed articles: