Tuesday, December 13, 2016

ACTION: Write A Letter to the Editor

Back in 1948, in the wake of the horrific atrocities of World War II, the United Nations adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (link here), drafted by individuals with "different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world."  

In its preamble, this document acknowledges its creation as arising from a situation in which "disregard and content for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind." But it goes on to express the enduring vision of a revitalized world "in which human beings all enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want."  

In this blog entry, let's consider Article 19, which asserts that "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." 


In 1948, no one anticipated the advent of social media and the ability of those who know how to tap into its power to attract multitudes of "followers," a highly engaged like-minded audience prepared to spread opinions, information, and misinformation indiscriminately and instantaneously.

Twitter posts and the like represent a world of "sound bites," formerly the exclusive domain of 24-hour TV and talk radio news cycles.  You can't pack subtlety within 140 characters.  And, what's more, the proliferation of "fake news" that is spread rapidly through social media makes it even more difficult to separate truth from outright and deliberate lies.

One avenue that still retains the ability (if not always the practice) to provide more comprehensive and factual information is that old stalwart, the newspaper. Print news may very well be on the way out, but a free press still has the power to keep the public informed and to uncover falsehoods and opinions that are masked as truth. If you don't already have a paid subscription to a newspaper, you might consider getting one. Consider it a donation toward defending freedom of the press.



If you have ever wanted to write a letter to a newspaper in response to an article, editorial, or opinion piece then, by all means, take the time to do it.  

No promises that it will be published, but it is something you can do, a way for your voice to be heard  in a way that is different from Facebook or Twitter or a conversation with a friend.  

I have had a good number of my letters published in The New York Times.  I've also had quite a few that were not published.  

But even when a letter is not selected for publication, I do not feel I have wasted my time.  First, nothing goes to waste. I generally find a way to recycle and repurpose unpublished letters.  Indeed, you'll find one further down in this blog post.

More importantly, preparing these letters has allowed me to clarify my thoughts and narrow them down to the essence of what it is I want to say. 

Here are three points to keep in mind if you want to improve your chances of having your letter published.  

1.   Write in response to a specific article or editorial that appears in the paper, and get it written and sent off as quickly as possible after it appears. I always e-mail mine within hours after the article has appeared.

    2. Keep it brief, and focus on just one or two specific points you want to make.  This is the hardest part for me, to keep it very narrow and not say everything I want to say about the topic.

 3.  Be mindful of the tone.  Make your feelings be known, but keep it professional and controlled.  The angrier the tone, the less likely it is to be published. 

Here is one of my letters that was not published. It was written in response to an op-ed piece that appears in The New York Times in September. The piece I was responding to was written by conservative radio talk show personality Glenn Beck and was titled "Empathy for Black Lives Matter." (Link Here).  Here is what I wrote in response:

To the Editor:

Re:  “Empathy for Black Lives Matter” (Op-Ed, September 7, 2016)

As a professional educator and a social progressive, I was quite taken with conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s cogent plea for greater empathy in our current climate of absolutism. The Black Lives Matter movement will truly mean something when we can join together and say not just that “Black lives matter,” but that “Black lives matter to me.”  And mean it. And act on it.

I offer it as an example of brevity and specificity that is the hallmark of the letters I have had published. I chose The New York Times for several reasons.  For one thing, it is my local newspaper and the one to which I subscribe. But I also understand that it has a national readership, and so what I have to say has the opportunity to reach a wide audience indeed. But when I lived in the midwest, I wrote and published a number of letters in the local newspaper about local and statewide issues. 

You might ask, does any of this really make a difference?

My answer:  You never know.   Remember:  



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