Positive media attention a powerful advocacy tool.
HAVE YOU EVER WANTED TO INFLUENCE THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION (CTE), but you didn't have the money to buy an advertisement or fly across the United States to spread your message? Writing letters to the editor and opinion editorials (Op-Eds) can be an effective way to inform your community and policymakers about the impact of CTE programs. Newspapers and magazines provide readers an opportunity to voice their concerns about major issues or respond to an article that was published. As we move into the digital age, newspapers are publishing content online, including stories from the print edition; one of the most read sections of the newspaper is the editorial page.
Writing a Letter to the Editor
If you want to correct inaccuracies in a news story, or you want to respond to a recent article, a letter to the editor is a great way to do so. When writing a letter, conduct research on the process and requirements of the publication in its determination of which letters it prints. Newspapers have a word limit for such articles, for instance, and the letter should be within that range in order to increase its chances of publication. The best way to find out the word limit is by calling the publication or looking online under the editorial section. Write persuasively and include local statistics and personal stories to make your point. One important item to remember is to stick to one major point or subject. At the end of the letter, be sure to include your name, address and daytime telephone number. If you submit the letter by fax, make sure to sign it; otherwise the publication will not publish it. If you submit the letter by e-mail, you may be called to confirm that you wrote the letter. Note that it may take a few days after you submit it to get a response.
A letter to the editor is an excellent way to express your views on the value of CTE and influence your Members of Congress because they read the hometown and local newspapers to keep abreast of important issues affecting their constituents. If your Congressional Member notices a letter about the effect CTE is having in your community, then it highlights the issue and may help with funding for your program at both the state and national level.
For example, a local ACTE member in Irmo, South Carolina, is worried about the budget cuts to education and CTE programs in the state. The member writes a letter to the editor to The State newspaper (South Carolina's largest newspaper) outlining CTE's impact in the Columbia community. The newspaper publishes the letter, which informs local and national policymakers about the importance of CTE, and it also educates the community, including the 104,880 daily subscribers and 746,000 visitors to the Web site each month.
Five Steps to Follow When Preparing on Op-Ed
Writing letters to the editor is an effective way to respond to an article, or to address one particular issue. When there is a larger issue affecting your community, like CTE funding being cut or high dropout rates, you may want to consider writing an Op-Ed. The Op-Ed provides an opportunity to illustrate the importance of an issue and the impact it is having in the community. Op-Eds are usually more in-depth requiring substantiating information. Before writing an Op-Ed:
1. Find opportunities. Review all publications in your region to determine which ones accept Op-Eds and the formats preferred. Are the Op-Eds generally about current social issues? Are the Op-Eds in a pro/con format?
2. Decide on a topic. In general, try to relate your topic to a current issue through an angle that will make your issue relevant. Examples include CTE as part of the school reform movement, CTE playing a role in reducing the dropout rate, or CTE's impact on building a qualified workforce.
3. Approach the editors. If you plan to send an Op-Ed to a national paper, send a pitch letter first to the appropriate editor outlining the proposed topic and author. Before writing the Op-Ed you should wait to hear from the editor in case there is anything specific he or she may ask of you. For people who have an established relationship with a particular editor, make a phone call instead of writing. When submitting an Op-Ed for a local paper, prepare a draft of the article and send it directly to the paper. Keep in mind that the person whose name appears on the Op-Ed doesn't need to be the person who wrote it. The byline should be from a person prominent in your organization, community, or someone with a recognized expertise or specialty.
4. Prepare a draft. Determine the publication guidelines for submissions. There may be a specific format in order to be considered, (e.g., length, double spaced). Op-Eds can run between 350-800 words depending on the publication. When preparing the piece for your local paper, be sure to localize it with statistics and examples from your community.
5. Submit a draft. Adhere to deadlines. If you promise an editor you will have a draft by a certain date, do so on time. A cover letter or a short paragraph at the end of your letter should be used to tell the editor exactly who the author is and why the person is qualified to write this Op-Ed. Be sure to include your full name, title, address, e-mail and phone number so that you can be contacted.
If a newspaper has an interest in reviewing your Op-Ed, it doesn't guarantee that it will be published, even if it is particularly well written. The editor may come back to you with suggestions that you will have to adapt, or you may be asked to provide backup to support points made in the piece. If the editor ultimately
declines the Op-Ed, try reworking it and begin the entire process again. Smaller newspapers generally accept multiple submissions, as long as competing papers in the same city do not run the same pieces. Larger newspapers like to have an exclusive; so the same Op-Ed shouldn't be distributed to multiple papers.
Persistence is the key. You can influence millions of people about how CTE shapes the economy, workplace and people's careers. To get your students involved you may want to include a classroom activity for them to write an Op-Ed or letter to the editor. Students can practice their writing skills and educate their community and policymakers about the impact CTE has on their lives.
Sabrina Kidwai is ACTE's media relations manager. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.