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Stay within the word limit, think locally and don't call names.
By Katie Litvin

Every month, the typical small-town newspaper editor receives hundreds or even thousands of letters from readers.

Still, many are unprintable either because they are too long, too confusing or just plain offensive.

That means it's not that hard to get your letter published, provided you follow a few simple rules.

Here are a few tips to better your chances:

What to Do:

* Stay within the word limit. Each newspaper has a set limit on how long published letters are allowed to be, so check the limit before you start writing. The Beaverton Valley Times in Oregon, for example, asks for 300 words or fewer, while The Citizen in Auburn, New York, has a limit of 400 words.

The Pantagraph in Illinois allows even fewer words, explained opinion editor Lenore Sobota.

"We have a 250-word limit, because we don't have enough room to print all the letters we receive. [The word limit] gives more people the opportunity to get their letter published," she said.

* Think Locally. Small papers focus on local news, so you should address issues concerning residents of your town specifically.

"We want local topics. That's one mistake people make, writing about something happening in Mexico or Venezuela that doesn't really affect our readership," said Michael Dowd, the managing editor of The Citizen in Auburn, NY. "We're looking for local people writing about local topics."

It also helps if you're also local. Sobota said the Pantagraph only prints letters from people who live in the paper's circulation area.

* Sign Your Name and Number. Include your contact information for follow-up questions from the editor.

"We contact every letter writer by phone to determine to the best of our best ability if they're the person who wrote it," Dowd said.

For each letter to the editor to The Citizen, he requires a signature, the author's hometown, and phone number.

* Write about positive issues in the community from time to time. Even though they're used to getting a lot of negative mail, editors like to see a nice word from time to time.

"We also publish 'thank you' (letters) especially if they are about a non-profit organization who has done something positive for the community." said Tish Flattery, the news assistant at The Waterloo/Cedar Falls Daily Courier in Iowa.

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Preparing for a News Interview

A newspaper reporter has just called you to schedule a mid-afternoon interview for tomorrow's newspaper. What do you do? Well, the information that follows will help you decide what to do and give you tips on how to do it. This fact sheet discusses strategies to help you succeed in presenting yourself in an interview for television, radio or print.

Many people assume that being interviewed is as simple as walking into an office or studio and waiting for a reporter or interviewer to ask questions. However, if you are not fully prepared, both in terms of the content of your presentation and the process -- what to expect during an interview -- being interviewed can be a frightening experience. Conversely, if you know your material and feel confident about your ability and appearance, an interview can be a rewarding and enjoyable endeavor.

General Interview Guidelines

The following recommendations are general hints that will give you the tools you need to succeed in most interviews. Going through these steps in a mock news interview setting will help you prepare for the "real thing." (A mock news interview is when someone acts as a reporter and asks you questions that a "real" reporter would ask. You may wish to videotape the mock interview so you can review and critique your performance.) The interview skills described in this section pertain to all forms of media unless otherwise noted at the end of the sentence.

Preparation

  • Prepare two to three ideas you want to convey. These are your communication points, the three most important issues or points you hope to address and get across to the reporter during the interview.

  • Make alist of the questions you anticipate being asked. Anticipate issues and questions that may arise during the interview, and be prepared to use those issues to launch your communication points.

  • Know your subject matter well.

  • Have your best answers ready.

Simplicity

  • Make short, simple, and specific statements.

  • Explain your most important point first.

  • Don't stray from the topic.

  • Summarize and then elaborate. (Example: "We have the best organization in the area because our volunteers really care. Let me explain what I mean...")

Answering questions

  • Pause after complete statements. The interviewer will appreciate these breaks during the editing process (radio and TV).

  • When you think you've answered a question adequately, don't feel compelled to keep talking simply because the interviewer has a microphone up to your mouth. If you're satisfied with your answer, sit in silence. Rambling leads you to say the wrong thing.

  • Do not say the reporter's name in the middle of a sentence; do not use phrases like "as I explained earlier." Example: "We got all of our information in March 1995, John, and as I explainedearlier, this will back up our first estimates." The reporter's name and the phrase will be difficult to edit. Also, viewers may not know what you and the reporter have discussed previously, and may not understand what you are referring to (radio and TV).

  • Think before you speak. Avoid fillers such as uh, ah, well, yeah, and you know (radio and TV).

  • Respond to negative questions with positive responses.

  • Always tell the truth. Your credibility is crucial.

  • Avoid "off the record." If you say something to a reporter, expect that it will end up in print. If you don't want it printed, don't say it.

  • Avoid "no comment" answers. It sounds as if you have something to hide.

Try these yourself --

  • Determine your communication points. What three ideas do you want to get across to the reporter?

  • List some possible questions a reporter might ask. Be sure to prepare answers to these questions.

  • Ask a friend to interview you, and videotape the mock news interview. Analyze it for strengths in your presentation and areas you need to improve.

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