Media Guide

Media Guide

  Media Tools  *  Letters to the Editor  *  Op-Eds  *  Editorials  *  On the Air  *

Why is using the Media an effective advocacy tool?
Think of the media as an opportunity to educate people in your community about the issues you care about and experience firsthand. Local media forums, such as newspapers, radio, or TV cable-access programs, reach many people and are very significant in shaping opinions. People learn from and listen to people they know – people from their communities. In fact, recent surveys reveal that the major factor in influencing an individual’s vote is conversation with friends and family. So you can be a powerful advocate right where you are!

What are the tools available to me in the Media?

A Letter to the Editor
is a letter sent to a publication about issues of concern to its readers, frequently in response to a previous article or letter. Usually, letters are no more than 250 words and intended for publication.
An Op-ed is a piece of writing expressing an opinion. The name originated from the tradition of newspapers placing such materials on the page opposite to the editorial page. The term "op-ed" is derived from combining the words "opposite" and "editorial."
An Editorial is an opinion piece written by the newspaper editorial staff that articulates the official position of the paper. What many advocates do not know is that reaching out to editorial staff in order to influence their position is a widely accepted and encouraged practice.
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Taken from Coalition on Human Needs Media Outreach and Field Organizing Primer.
How do I write a Letter to the Editor?

  • Letters to the Editor are an excellent way to expand on an article or respond with another viewpoint. This section is one of the most widely read sections of the paper.
  • To improve the chances of having your letter published, submit it as soon as possible – within twenty-four hours if you can and no more than three days after the article you are responding to appears.
  • Refer to the article you are addressing by title and date it appeared.
  • Stick to one point. Keep your letter short (usually 250 words or less, but find out from your newspaper).
  • Use sound reasoning, facts, and firsthand experience.
  • Find out your newspaper’s requirements for submitting a letter. Often you will need to sign your letter and provide your address and phone number.

    Click here for a sample Letter to the Editor
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How do I write an Op-Ed?

  • Choose a current topic or “news peg” on which to hang your opinion.
  • Express your point of view clearly and boldly in the first paragraph.
  • Use simple, short sentences and paragraphs. Avoid jargon.
  • Include at least one memorable phrase for use as a pull out quote.
  • Close on a strong note. A short, powerful, last paragraph should drive your point home.
  • Make it personal (avoid form letters) and provide accurate information.
  • Think of images or ways to make your message powerful and concrete. Stories and personal experiences are often very persuasive. Create a picture in the reader’s mind.

    Click here for a sample Op-Ed
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How do I influence Editorials?

  • Editorial staffs are very careful about developing their opinions, so in order to influence them, it is useful make contact and form a relationship with them in the early stages the opinion-forming process.
  • Do some research into the particular editorial slant of this editorial writer or staff.
  • Develop a clear, concise message.  Put together a convincing, reasoned case, not just righteous zeal.
  • Find out from the newspaper who on the editorial board to contact about your issue.
  • Once you know who to contact and what you want to say, there are several ways to reach editorial staff:
  • Pitch letter: It is always safe to send a letter that introduces yourself and your organization and outlines your position.  If you have one, it can be a good idea to include a position paper on your topic with your letter.
  • Conference calls: An easy way to reach several editorial writers at once is to host a conference call with policy experts offering a group briefing.
  • Editorial meetings: If you are working with an issue that is unusually timely, dramatic, or contentious, and warrants serious discussion, you can set up a face to face meeting with the paper’s editorial board.

    Adapted from the Coalition on Human Needs Media Outreach and Field Organizing Primer.
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How do I advocate On the Air?

  • Thousands of talk-radio shows across the country present many opportunities for the savvy advocacy group to forward its cause by getting a representative booked as a guest on shows.
  • If you encounter a hostile host, don’t panic: Try to stay calm and stay on message. Don’t let a hostile host or caller rile you up and throw you off track. And try not to get defensive. Remember, many listeners out there agree with you.
  • Stay on Message; Repeat Yourself; Repeat Yourself.  Do not allow the host to sidetrack you.
  • Make certain that you know what you want to discuss.
  • Pick three central message points and stick to them. People tune in and out of these programs with great frequency as they drive to and from work. It is good to repeat your key message at least three times every fifteen minutes. You may feel like a broken record, but listeners will be getting the message.
  • Personalize the issues: By putting a human face on issues, you can appeal directly to the audience. For example, rather than saying, “Budget cuts in Medicare and Medicaid will hurt sixteen million older Americans,” say, “My eighty-four-year-old mother is a widow, and she has to struggle to make ends meet. How will she afford to pay $100 more every month for her medical expenses?”
  • Use but don’t abuse statistics: Pick one or two statistics that help you make your case, and make sure they are accurate and easy to understand. Percentages are difficult for many people. Rather than saying, “Americans are spending 10 per cent of their income for health care,” say, “Americans spend one out of ten dollars of their family budget for health care.” Also, localize data whenever possible.
  • End on a positive note: Even if the show was frustrating, thank the host at the end of the program, and restate your message: “It’s been a real pleasure talking with you today, and I hope we can do it again. These debates are what make America strong, and I know your listeners want to know how their family’s health can be protected.”

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    Adapted from “Making Radio Work for You,” prepared by the Media Department of Families U.S.A. Foundation, Families U.S.A., 1334 G St NW, Washington DC 20005, 202.628.3030;

Contact Info

Sandra Sorensen
Director of Washington Office
100 Maryland Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20002