Thursday, December 08, 2005

Should you write a letter to the editor?

I wrote one to USA Today, er, today. Here is an excerpt from the automated response to my email:
Your opinion is important to us. If your letter is one of those selected for publication, congratulations. The competition for space is keen.

Regretfully, although we would like to publish all of the 800 to 1,000 letters we receive weekly, we are unable to do so.
I applaud USA Today for stating its number of submissions. It proves that the competition is not all that keen.

Assume it’s only worthwhile to write a letter to the editor if it has a decent chance of being published. USA Today chooses from 160–200 letters per day. Assume (conservatively) that half of the letter writers are cranks, plagiarists or just poor writers. So they’re really selecting from only 80–100 publishable letters.

Today, USA Today printed 5 letters, which is probably about average. That means that they print 5 or 6 percent of the usable letters they receive. And this is the largest circulation newspaper in the country! The odds are still against your letter getting published, but if you have something to say and write reasonably well, you have a good chance of success.

Conclusion: There is no inherent reason not to write a letter to the editor. (It still might not be the best use of your time, but only you can decide that.)

Navel-gazing postscript: Before today, I’ve written just three letters to newspaper editors. My batting average is .500 at the New York Times and .000 at the Cornell Daily Sun. Go figure.


Blogger Skay said...

Knowing you to be a smart and insightful fellow, and presuming you to be a good writer (a fair presumption, I'd guess), I suggest that your respective batting averages at the NYT and the CDS is a good reflection of the quality of each paper...

12/16/2005 2:07 PM  

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