Tips for Writing a Letter to the Editor or Op-Ed on Human Trafficking
How to Write a Letter-to-the-Editor (LTE)
Writing a letter to the editor (also known as an LTE) is a great way to offer a rebuttal, add another perspective, or just express your appreciation for an already-published article or commentary piece. Both local and national legislators also read LTEs to keep their finger on the pulse of their community. A well-written LTE can not only inform your neighbors, but can also influence your legislators.
Be brief (150-250 words) and follow directions
Write something brief and to the point. Some news outlets have maximum word counts. Be sure to follow them. Send your LTE in the body of your email, not as an attachment. Include your full name, contact information, location, and profession or expertise in the email as well. Some news outlets may require you to submit your letter using their online form. If you don’t follow their directions, the news outlet may not print your letter. Be responsive
Respond to a specific article or op-ed printed in their publication. Include the title and date of the piece you’re responding to. Be timely
Try to submit your LTE on the same day the relevant article is published.Be creative
Look for alternate ways to respond. See if your news outlet has interactive discussions with reporters, or if reporters are active on social media, and consider getting involved on those platforms.
7 Easy Tips
1. Start by referring to an event that has recently made headlines in your area. Include the headline of the story in the first few sentences of your letter.
2. Connect your issue to Catholic Social Teaching whenever you can.
3. Incorporate talking points from U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking modules.
4. Include the name of your members of Congress (if appropriate). That will guarantee that your LTE will make its way to your members’ desk and provide much needed advocacy.
5. State a personal reason why you care about this issue.
6. Sign your name and write the name of your city.
7. If you have access to a professional communicator either through your religious congregation or your ministry, by all means use them!
How to Write an Op-Ed
An opinion piece was traditionally published in print media opposite the editorial page (hence the term “op-ed”). These articles generally come from an author not affiliated with the publisher and present an opinion that is meant to create thought and discussion among readers. Op-Eds are usually longer than letters to the editor and are written by an expert or otherwise notable person with the qualifications to have an opinion on that subject matter.
You can get an Op-Ed piece published by pitching it to an editor, usually over email, and briefly explaining what makes your op-ed different, important, and timely.
Steps to writing an op-ed: a sample framework
Who are you, and what is your expertise around combating human trafficking?
This could be your faith background, your work on justice issues, your personal or professional experience with human trafficking or just a wide body of knowledge on the need for policies to address human trafficking. How do you see the issue of human trafficking as being part of something larger?
Make connections that help people understand the relationship between human trafficking and other salient issues that may be receiving more media attention (i.e. immigration policy; COVID-19; global climate change, etc.) Why do you care about human trafficking?
Draw from your own background, or the general background of the group you represent. It’s more impactful to focus on one or two reasons, rather than listing off a large number. Find a reason why this is deeply personal to you and explain why it should be deeply personal to others.What are you calling for?
Have a clear call to action. What do you want readers to do after reading your piece?
Steps to pitching an op-ed
Don’t submit your op-ed to more than one newspaper at a time. Second, think about where your ideas will be most relevant and where you might be most likely to get published. Some outlets, like USA Today and The New York Times, are much more selective than others. While you can and should aim high, make sure you have backup plans for smaller or more subject-specific publications that might be more interested in case major outlets aren’t interested.
Write an effective pitch
Editors want to keep their news fresh and interesting for their readers. What makes this issue relevant right now? How is your hook or angle different from something readers might have seen before? What makes you the best person to write the op-ed? If you’ve got a well-written op-ed with an unexpected point of view, the pitch is the place to explain that. Explain why their outlet is the very best place for your op-ed (even if it’s not your first choice.)Be brief
The pitch should be comprised of your idea (a few sentences), your relevant credentials, your contact information, and the finished piece, pasted into the email. Don’t attach it, and don’t explain the whole piece. Follow up
No matter whether the editor responds or not, you’ll want to follow up. If they respond, thank them regardless of whether they said “yes” or “no.” If they don’t respond, send them an email politely explaining that, since your hook is time sensitive, if they don’t get back to you by a certain time, you’ll assume they’ve passed on it and will submit it elsewhere. The amount of time depends on exactly how timely your news hook is.Please let us know if your letter to the editor or Op-Ed is published. USCSAHT will help promote it to a wider audience. Email Jennifer@SistersAgainstTrafficking.org with a link to your published piece.
Adapted from the Catholic Climate Covenant Advocacy Resources