The Ten Minute Activist – How to Write a Letter to the Editor

The Ten Minute Activist – How to Write a Letter to the Editor

The letters to the editor page is often second only to the sports page as the most read part of any newspaper. Writing a letter to the editor of your local paper can be an extremely effective way to educate people in your community about the state of our rivers, and what they can do to help protect them. Letters to the editor are quick, simple, and easy ways to be an advocate for healthy rivers.

Hints on writing more effective letters to the editor:

Be brief – Most newspapers will not run letters to the editor longer than 250 words! Keep your letters short and to the point. State your position as clearly as possible, and stick to one subject.

Be timely – Newspapers rarely publish letters that are unrelated to topics being covered in the news. Make sure your letter to the editor focuses on something that is happening now, or has happened within the last few weeks.

Know the rules – Most newspapers have strict guidelines for what sorts of letters to the editor they will publish. Some require a typed letter; others may want it sent via email. Often newspapers want your address and phone number so they can verify you wrote the letter. You can usually find a paper’s guidelines on their letters page, or on their website.

Don’t get personal – It’s ok to express outrage, but keep it focused on specific policies or ideas. Personal attacks are the surest way to sink your letter.

Find a local angle – If you are writing about a state wide or national issue, explain how it connects to your local rivers and streams. Readers want to know how an issue effects their lives and their communities.

Explain yourself – Don’t assume readers are as familiar with an issue as you. Give a short but informative background before tackling the main issue.

Avoid form letters – Sample letters to the editor from organizations like WaterWatch are just that – samples. Use them as a guide in writing your own letter; don’t submit them verbatim to the newspaper. Also, don’t submit the same letter to two competing newspapers.

Sample Letter

To the Editor:

The water flowing through our rivers and streams is one of Oregon’s most precious natural resources. It provides habitat for fish and wildlife, outstanding recreational opportunities, and much of the scenic beauty that makes Oregon such a wonderful place to live. This water is also a public resource, but it is being given away at an alarming rate. Even worse no one knows just how much is being used.

That is because Oregon does not require water users to measure how much they take from our rivers and streams. The state gives farmers and other water users permanent rights to draw a certain amount from our waterways, but it does not require them to measure how much they actually use. With no way of knowing how much water is being used, enforcing our water laws is nearly impossible. The results can be seen each summer in the bone-dry streambeds of many creeks and rivers.

The Oregon Water Resources Department is currently considering whether or not to adopt a water measurement program. This is a no-brainer. Water users are being given one of Oregon’s most precious resources – for free. Measuring how much they take is a small price to pay for the use of this precious resource.

Oregon Newspaper Information

Bend Bulletin
My Nickel’s Worth, P.O. Box 6020, Bend, OR 97708, or send to via email. Fax to 541-385-5804. Letters must be less than 250 words and include name, address, and phone number.

Eugene Register-Guard
Mailbag, 3500 Chad Drive, Eugene, OR 97408, or via email. Fax to 541-338-2828. Limit letters to 250 words and include name, address, and phone number for verification.

Medford Mail Tribune
Letters Editor, Mail Tribune, Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501, or via email at There is also an online submission form here. Letters must be 200 words or less.

The Oregonian
Letters to the editor, The Oregonian, 1500 SW First Ave., Suite 400, Portland, OR 97201, or via email at Fax to 503-294-4193. Limit letters to 250 words and include full address and daytime phone number.

Salem Statesman Journal
The Statesman Journal has an online letter to the editor submission form here.

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