Many aspiring writers break into print first in a place others don’t think about: the editorial pages of the newspaper. And that’s a fine place to start.
After all, most letters to the editor originate among people largely untrained in journalism, truly from the heartland. Yet although the authors aren’t likely to win a Pulitzer Prize, the letters carry strong appeal because (with rare exceptions) the writers speak for themselves only, not an organization.
So we’re likely to find controversy in this section, with all sorts of potential targets for criticism. Targets include the newspaper staff itself, local and national government, the school system, corporate officials, developers, religious groups, ecologists, health addicts and more. The list extends endlessly.
Editors are eager to publish quality letters from area residents. The editorial page would look practically blank without them. This is another reason why your first efforts at publication could become successful here.
Keep these guidelines in mind for your letters to the editor:
*Letters have word limits. Call to find the allowable number, realizing editors won’t make exceptions.
*Editors reserve the right to edit for grammatical accuracy and spelling. Some editors change phrases, combine sentences, and omit useless passages. In this regard, resist pride of authorship. Welcome those editors who help you present a correct image.
*Anonymous letters go into the newsroom’s wastebasket, deservedly so. Editors want writers who endorse their thoughts proudly. Either sign or don’t send your letter.
*Whatever title you suggest for your letter, which represents a guest mini column, expect the editor to publish another heading. Only rarely does the editorial page maintain your original title.
*Be aware that there’s no requirement for editors to publish every letter. When hundreds of readers write about a hot issue, and many of the arguments sound about the same, editors select those which represent the range of opinions. When your letters don’t make the printed page, keep this in mind.
*Keep your language moderate, avoiding harsh slang that borders on profanity, and refrain from sarcasm that readers could misunderstand. Never ridicule an individual or group. True, we read letters like that occasionally, but you don’t know how many similar letters wound up in the editor’s trash pile.
*To end my advice with a positive tone: I repeat that editors want and need articulate, thoughtful letters on timely issues, particularly those expressing fresh viewpoints.
Using these guidelines, I encourage you to join the thousands of citizens who enliven newspapers with their candid opinions. Write letters to the editor–and you’ll enjoy one of the most marvelous privileges of a free press, seeing your bylined ideas in print.