Are you afraid to write Letters To The Editor?
Do you write Letters, but they're "never" published?
Are you worried that your published Letters just aren't effective in swaying opinions?
CAMERA (Commitee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) has just published an excellent guide for its E-Mail Letter-Writing Teams. I've taken the liberty of making a few changes in their material and posting it for your guidance. While CAMERA writes specifically about Israel, please understand that these guidelines apply to any subject, and most especially to ACT!
Every newspaper that prints Letters To The Editor (and this is one the most frequently-read sections in any paper!) gives its own "how-to" submission information. Most prefer electronic submissions these days.
Letters To The Editor is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. Use it! Our opponents are very good at it!
Once you've written a few - even if they're not published - you'll get in the habit of doing it. And they do have a real effect! Think of the first six that you write as "practice sessions" - but the send them in!
We are all in the habit of "preaching to the choir" too much. Let's make our voices heard to the rest of the country! ( – Allan)
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I'd like to share with you some thoughts on how to quickly write an effective letter-to-the- that will get published. The most common mistakes I see are that some letters are (1) much too long, (2) hard for non-expert editors to understand, and/or (3) inadvertently reinforce anti-Israel attitudes.
Letters-to-the-editor are a special form of communication. The goal is to educate members of the public who aren't solidly pro- or anti- anything. You are writing to persuade an open mind! What one writes in a hundred word letter for publication is not what one would write in a lengthy op-ed, or in an alert to activists or in a detailed letter meant only to be read by the reporter or editor.
Keep it simple. By limiting each letter to one clear message, it will be more "sticky," that is, it will be more likely to stick in the reader's mind. It will also be more likely to be published, because the letters editor will not need to spend time shortening it. (Help him to do his job; he'll reward you with a published letter! – Allan)
Be Positive. Too often, letter-writers repeat the negative allegation they are writing to refute. This is a frequent mistake. Repeating the allegation, however, only serves to reinforce the association between our objectives and the defamatory allegation. For example, if the public reads a series of letters that include the phrase "Israel does not target civilians," this inadvertently plants in people's minds the erroneous idea that Israel targets civilians. Better to state in the positive that "Hamas terrorists target Israeli civilians, while Israel targets terrorists and does its best to safeguard civilians on both sides." This refutes the allegation without having to actually mention it.
Below are some basic letter-writing tips and Internet resources. Please give them a test-drive and I think you'll find that it's much easier to write a letter, less time-consuming, and more likely that it will get published and remembered by readers.
Reading about writing Letters to the Editor is fine. Nothing, however, is a substitute for actually sitting down and writing them!
Letter-Writing Tips and Strategies For Getting Published
1) Be prompt, persistent, and go on the offensive. Respond to unfair reporting while the issue is still fresh in the minds of the journalists and their audience. It's best to send your letter the same day or within a day or two, but within a week is acceptable. Aside from responding/defending, it's vital that you also regularly send in proactive letters that go on the offensive (e.g. remind public about Palestinian atrocities against Israelis...give examples of Arab leaders denouncing America, committing human rights abuses against their own people...write about the latest Palestinian TV show that teaches kids to hate and kill Americans, Christians, Danes...).
2) Do not restate the inaccuracies of the article in question. Doing so only gives the opponents' propaganda more exposure and makes it more memorable. Refer to them not at all or only vaguely and briefly as a launch for your own points, e.g. "Smith's one-sided article on Jerusalem was long on Palestinian opinions, but short on vital context, such as...."
Remember state your argument in a positive voice. For example, don't write: "Israel is not an apartheid state." Instead, write it this way: "Similar toto America, Israel is a multi-cultural democracy with full rights and freedoms for all its citizens, no matter what their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Muslim Arabs serve in the Israeli legislature and army, and women and men are free to dress and worship in whatever way they choose."
3) Be concise. Check to see what your paper's word limit is and stick to it. Editors tend publish letters they don't have toto spend time shortening. Think of a one-sentence message and just add one or two more sentences to further explain your point. Short and snappy letters tend to get published! One TV commentator refers to these letters as "pithy."
4) Go on the offensive but also express compassion for both sides and a desire for peace. It's important to write frequent letters about Palestinian extremism, rejectionism and violence. But end such a letter on a note of compassion and a desire for peace for both sides, e.g. "If Palestinian society reformed itself and chose to share at least some of Israel's and America's basic values of freedom, pluralism and respect for life, there would be a more hopeful and peaceful future for Palestinian and Israeli children ." You are more persuasive when you are perceived as the voice of reason, not animosity. Sometimes it's hard, but it works!
5) Limit your topic. While an article or broadcast may contain numerous instances of bias, focus on just one. It's better to fully explain one point than to inadequately cover five.
6) WRITE FOR YOUR AUDIENCE. Keep in mind who your audience is. Write in a way that will resonate with them. For example, if writing to a college newspaper, write about those progressive issues (e.g. Hamas is anti-gay, anti-women's rights) that students care about.
7) Do not use jargon or historical terms that many will be unfamiliar with, such as Judenrein, PA or madrassah. If you use such words, explain what they are, e.g. "Palestinians demand that any territory they rule be Judenrein (ethnically cleansed of Jews)."
8) Hostile or ad hominem rants are counterproductive. And while it's good to aim for an emotional response from the reader, don't go overboard. For example, if talking about the impact of terror, tell the personal story of a terror victim, but don't get too graphic about the gore.
9) If you need factual information, get it from reliable sources. Search Google or CAMERA's Web site (www.camera.org ) using key words. Go to ACTForAmerica.Org. If you cannot find the info there, call the CAMERA office, consult AIPAC ( www.aipac.org ), your chappter leaders, or the nearest Israeli Consulate. For other historical info, go to the Zionism and Israel Info Center Web site: http://www.zionism-israel.com
(The very worst thing you can do is give inaccurate information! Double check every fact or statement. When appropriate, mention your authoritative source: "As revealed in yesterday's State Department Memo...." Don't, however, give footnotes. This isn't a formal report. – Allan)
10) Write as a concerned individual. Mentioning that you are responding to an organized request for Letters may lessen the impact of your letter.
11) Maximize the impact. Send a copy of your letter not just to the editor, but also to the reporter, foreign editor, publisher...to advertisers/sponsors of the broadcast...to congressional reps if the report was on public radio or television. When writing to a syndicated columnist, be sure to send a copy to the paper the columnist works for, as well as to your local paper if the column appears there. (You've already done the hard work of researching and composing your letter. Now get the maximum value from your work.)
12) Follow-up! [This is a rarely-used but very valuable technique!] If your letter is not published the next day, call the editor of the Letters-to-the-Editor page to ask if your will be published. If the answer is no, tell him "as a learning exercise letterto improve my writing skills for future letters, can you please tell me why this letter was likely not chosen? What could I have done to make it more publishable?" If the editor doesn't remember your letter, offer to read it over the phone and/or re-email it. If your letter is published, make your name more memorable by writing a note to the editor thanking him/her for allowing your concerns to be shared with the public.
13) Include your daytime phone number. Before publishing a letter, most papers will call verify that you wrote it. They don't care if you are paraphrasing someone else's work or if someone ghostwrote the letter for you. Due to past lawsuits, they just want to make sure that someone hasn't played a prank on you by putting your name on a letter you disagree with. Remember, particularly if you're using e-mail, to include your full name, address and daytime phone number. (If writing on behalf of ACT!, mention your title or position, as appropriate! – Allan)
ACT! Members: Improve The Impact! Send copies of your published letters to all other chapters and ACT! National leadership. Publish it on your chapter blog. Print it in your chapter hand-outs. Multiply its value.
What You Can Do To Counter Unfair Reporting
1. STAY INFORMED
To find in-depth coverage of what's really happening, spend at least 10 minutes a day at one or two of the following Web sites:
Act! For America (www.ActForAmerica.org)
The Daily Alert from the JCPA ( www.dailyalert.org )
Ynet News (www.ynetnews.com )
The Jerusalem Post (www.jpost.com )
IMRA ( www.imra.org.il )
CAMERA (www.camera.org )
Jihad Watch (www.JihadWatch.org)
Eye on the UN ( www.eyeontheun.org )
UN Watch (www.unwatch.org )
Stand With Us (www.standwithus.com )
NGO Monitor (www.ngomonitor.org )
MEMRI (www.memri.org )
Palestinian Media Watch ( www.pmw.org.il )
Israel Beyond the Conflict (www.israel21c.org )
Useful sites for historical info:
Zionism and Israel Info Center: http://www.zionism-israel.com
Jewish Virtual Library's Israel section:(www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org
Wikipedia may be used with caution since many articles are filled with propaganda.
2. CONTACT THE MEDIA
As soon as you hear a one-sided, inaccurate report or unfair report, pick up the phone and call the news organization. It only takes a minute! If it was inaccurate, explain the error and ask that it be publicly corrected. If it was one-sided, state that the report was not objective, that it favored the Palestinians or was harshly anti-Israel. If you can, provide some details. Were only pro-Palestinian opinions represented? Were pro-Israeli opinions minimal or nonexistent? Was the report skewed by the use of terms or language associated with only one side's perspective? Was key information missing (lack of context)? Did the reporter editorialize in what was supposed to be an objective news story? If you are unable to make a phone call, write a letter. Let CAMERA know about the issue and your response to it: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find most media organizations' contact information by doing a Google search (www.google.com ) using the news organization's name as keyword, and then, once you get their website, looking for the "contact us" link. Or go toto CAMERA's website, look on the left-side column and click on "Contact the Media." Also, in most of our e-mail alerts, we include a lengthy media contact list.
3. SPREAD THE WORD
Post comments on blogs, Internet discussion boards, and in the "post a comment" section after online news articles. Talk with your family and friends about events in Israel and emphasize that much of the media coverage has been distorted, damaging public understanding of events at this critical time. Give examples to raise their awareness of the disturbing problem of media bias. Forward alerts to them. Educate and organize members of your community (youth groups, synagogue and church social action committees, sisterhood/brotherhood groups, women's organization chapters, patriotic and veterans groups, etc.) to call the media to protest inaccurate and unfair reporting. (Form a local letter-writing committee within your ACT! Chapter. – Allan)
4. SUPPORT CAMERA BY KEEPING YOUR CAMERA MEMBERSHIP CURRENT
Support our ongoing efforts to promote fair and factual coverage of Israel. If you are not already a member, become one. Tell your family and friends about us! All members receive CAMERA Media Reports and CAMERA's Media Directory, which lists the email, address, fax, and phone number for all the major news media. To join or renew your membership, call 617-789-3672 or go to www.camera.org and click on "Join/Contribute" in the menu on the left side.
5. ENCOURAGE GOOD WRITERS TO JOIN E-MAIL TEAM!
If you know someone who cares about Israel or the dangers of islamic expansion within the Western world, and is a good thinker/writer, help us recruit him/her for CAMERA's E-Mail Team and your chapter's letter writing committee. Please send us his/her name, email address, city, state and phone number to email@example.com . We will send him/her a letter with information about our E-mail Team, and invite him to join. He/she doesn't need to be a CAMERA member to be on our E-Mail Team, but of course membership is always appreciated.
WHEN YOU ENCOUNTER UNFAIR REPORTING, DON'T JUST GET UPSET. TAKE ACTION!