Letter-writing Guide from Roger Porkess

Posted on 2nd April, 2020

Letters to your local newspaper

 

Writing to your local newspaper can be a rewarding experience for the good reason that there is a reasonably high chance that you will see your letter in print. This is in stark contrast to any of the national papers where the editors are looking for letters from well known people or those whose position gives them authority. The perspective in your local paper is more that you are well known in your town or village and your letter represents a strand of opinion in the area they are covering.

 

There is, of course, no single formula for writing a successful letter to your paper but motivation is very important. If you really feel strongly about your subject, you will want to tell people about it and that will come across to the editor. This was certainly true of the sample letter below (Totnes Times, November 2018). This particular letter was selected because it also contains the features usually present in a successful letter. The numbers link to guidelines below.

 Don't expect to get all of them into one letter but try to have at least some of them.

'Last week I was one of three speakers in a session at an EU statistics conference in Germany. The others were from Germany and Sweden, and our chair from Portugal. We provided an insight into what is being done in our schools to help young people gain the skills in interpreting data that they will need as adult citizens. (1) We all really enjoyed working together and valued each others' contributions, and the audience from across the EU countries were warm in their appreciation. It was a real pleasure to be part of such an event and to experience at first-hand what the EU is all about. (2)

 

Returning home to the attempts to deselect our MP, the contrast could not have been greater. It seems that there is a group of people who, as well as not understanding the EU, have also lost sight of our traditional British values of respect for the opinions of others and their right to express them. Who would ever have expected free speech to be under attack in inclusive Totnes? (3)(4)

 

Two years ago, we were asked to vote about our future in the EU but no one knew what would be involved and misinformation was not in short supply. Soon we will know the terms that the government has been able to negotiate. Will they give us the sort of country we want to live in, and more importantly one that is fit for our children and grandchildren? This is a very different question from the one we were asked in 2016 and it is a matter of simple democracy that the terms of such a crucial decision should be put to the nation. (4)That is why a million people have signed an online petition for a People's Vote and 700,000 recently marched through the streets of London.'(5)

 

Note that the letter is informative. Readers may learn something from it.

1) The context is clear as to why this is important to the author.

2) Emotion is expressed

3) Definite local interest

4) The message of the letter is set  out clearly and unambiguously. (You can have more than one message.)

5) Local and national events are linked together

 

The ideal length of a letter is also different between local and national newspapers. Short, pithy letters of one or two sentences are often welcome in the national press but that is not necessarily the case locally, where what you want to say is more important than clever wording.  A rough guideline might be between 100 and 350 words.                                                         

 Roger Porkess, Devon for Europe

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