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Letters to the Press - tips and contacts

Hi. Glenn here. To go along with the monthly letter-writing notes I'm
sending below the Voices 'how-to' guide to writing to the press (including
contacts for all the major UK papers) Apologies if it has been posted to the
list before. Hope the material is considered useful rather than patronising!

All the best,



Letters to the Editor : a brief how-to guide.
a voices in the wilderness briefing,  November 2000

To take out an advert in one of the broad sheets would cost you a small
fortune. Yet, every day, the broad sheets provide a space which,  with a
little effort, you can use to get whatever message you want across to a
large group [1] of people FOR FREE. This space is reputedly one of the most
read parts of the paper : the letters page.

The following simple tips are based on 3 years experience of writing letters
to the broad sheets. Following these tips obviously can’t guarantee
publication but it may help to increase your chances.

1. Be ‘relevant’ ...
 The broad sheets are remarkably parochial. If possible, you should always
make a reference to something that's appeared in the paper you’re writing to
(eg. an article, another letter etc...) This is absolutely key, since the
broad sheets don’t usually publish letters which fail this criterion.
     For anti-sanctions campaigners this means looking out for articles,
letters, editorials etc... that could be the springboard for a letter.

 Examples :

 New Statesman, 3rd April 2000. Letter from Gabriel Carlyle.
 ‘Robin Cook writes that the UN oil-for-food programme “has been working for
three years and could have started years earlier had Saddam not blocked it”
(“Will he film Saddam’s next victims ?”, 27th March). The claim is worth
examining in some detail ...’

 The Spectator, 26th August 2000. Letter from Andrea Needham.
 ‘John Laughland opens his piece on British foreign policy (‘We are only
obeying orders’, 12 August) with a reference to the die-in for the people of
Iraq, which, as he notes, took place on 7 August ...’

2. Keep it short.
 As an ordinary member of the public you don’t have much space to play with
: 2-300 words maximum (MP’s and Ambassadors seem to have slightly greater
leeway). Even then, you should expect your letter to be edited down :
sometimes with your consent, sometimes not and the shorter your original,
the less chance they’ll have to mutilate it.  If you write your letter using
Microsoft Word then you can use the ‘word count’ tool to keep track of how
many words you’ve written.

3. Keep it simple.
 Keep your letter as simple as possible. Focus on one or two points, not
twelve. Try to ensure that your letter is intelligible to the average
reader, who may lack your specialist knowledge. Keep an eye out for juicy
quotes and figures for your letters.

4. Time is of the essence ...
The letters pages seem to have a very short ‘memory’, so you need to get
your letters to them as soon as possible. You don’t stand much chance of
publication if you’re writing in response to a letter that appeared two
weeks previously.
    E-mail is the best (and, if you have it, the simplest) method of writing
to the letters pages, followed by fax. Terrestrial mail comes a very distant

Here’s a rough timetable :

* Dailies : for a piece that appears on a weekday (ie. Monday - Friday) you
should try and get your response to the paper the same day not later than
* Saturday papers : you have until midday on Sunday to respond.
* Sunday papers : you’ll usually have several days (though it varies from
paper to paper).

5. Don't rant.
They won’t publish it.

6. Make sure to include an address and telephone number in your e-mail.
Many papers *require* this from letter writers.

7. Novelty.
Your letter is more likely to get published if it contains some element of
novelty eg. a new piece of information, a reference to an act of civil
disobedience on the part of the author(s), a reference to a new web-site, or
a celebrity signatory (or signatories). The more letters you have published,
the more important this sort of thing probably is.

8. Check your facts.
 Make sure you know what you’re talking about. Never quote something from
memory, always double check. If you use a secondary source, make sure it’s
accurate. Only use sources that the average reader is going to consider
credible (eg. Human Rights Watch).

9. Hit as many outlets as possible.
Opportunities for anti-sanctions letters to the editor often come in bunches
eg. when the August 1999 Unicef report (on child mortality in Iraq) was
published, all of the broad sheets, except the Telegraph, covered the story.
One can often use slightly modified versions of a letter to one paper to
send to the others. Needless to say, the more papers you write to, the more
chance you have of getting published ... The only fly in the ointment here
is that The Times will only publish letters which are exclusive to The Times
ie. they won’t publish your letter if you’ve written a similar letter to the
other papers on the same theme.

10. If at first you don’t succeed ...
If you’ve followed all of the above then a major factor in getting your
letters pages is simply persistence. A good point can often be recycled and
used again if there were no takers the first time ...

Here are the e-mail addresses for the letters pages of the 5 major daily
broad sheets :

The Guardian :
The Independent :
The Daily Telegraph :
The Financial Times :
The Times :

Here are the Sunday broad sheets :

Independent on Sunday :
Sunday Telegraph :
Sunday Times :
The Observer :

Finally, the Guardian also produce a weekly news digest : The Guardian
Weekly, with it’s own letters page (a lot of ex pats read this) :

[1] The Guardian Media Book 2001 gives the following average circulation
figures for the period Jan - June 2000 : Independent (224,000) ; Guardian
(396,534), Financial Times (457,653), The Times (722,642), Daily Telegraph
(1,033,680) ; Independent on Sunday (248,564), Observer (415,004), Sunday
Times (1,369,461), Sunday Telegraph (811,408

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