Media Tips from the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention & Control Program

The Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention & Control Program has created a couple of tip sheets for working with the media.I have provided the content of the factsheet here to share with you all. Great work Westconsin!

Media Tip Visiting an Editorial Board

An editorial board meeting is an informal discussion with the newspaper’s opinion page editor or editorial board. Visits are usually face-to-face, but can be accomplished over the phone if schedules are tight.

Scheduling a meeting is a great way to build a relationship with these busy folks.

Who Should Attend?

Limit the number of people attending to no more than three, although one is perfectly fine. Suggested participants include a coalition coordinator, health care representative, business owner, community leader or a state partner.

Come With a Plan

What is the primary purpose for the visit? Is it to educate the editor on a specific issue? Or is it to persuade him or her to write a favorable editorial or neutralize the paper on a contentious issue?

Listen Carefully

Let the editor speak, he or she will undoubtedly have many questions to ask. Listen carefully to what the editor is saying…and asking. This serves two purposes: it builds rapport with the editor and it gives a glimpse of the editor’s views.

Know What You’re Going to Say

Be prepared to discuss your issue knowledgeably and concisely – do not wing it! Editors are busy people who write a column EVERY day. They have minimal availability for editorial meetings, so plan what you want to say and limit your discussion to one topic. If the editor asks specific questions on another topic, then it’s certainly appropriate to respond accordingly.

Leave Behind Fact Sheets

Editors write columns on every issue known to mankind. They’re not experts, but they’re certainly required to write knowledgeable opinions. Leave-behinds are a great way to help them understand issues, share facts and serve as a credible resource in the future.

End With an Ask

Is a favorable editorial the goal? Would the paper consider publishing a guest column on a specific topic? Don’t be afraid – end the meeting with a specific request.

Media Tip
Letters to the Editor / Op-Eds

Three reasons to write a letter to the editor or op-ed:

 We can control what’s printed

 Newspapers are fairly good about running them

 People read them—the opinion page is second only to the front page in readership.

A good letter has three components:

The Lead

Keep your opening paragraph short and punchy.

Two examples:

Leverage News:

“The Centers for Disease Control’s report yesterday showing that smoke-free laws reduce heart attacks is exactly why Our Town needs to act…”


“Bob Smith is entitled to argue that he doesn’t like laws that would protect public health, but he’s not entitled to create his own set of facts. In case he missed them, here are those facts…”

The Body

Use the bulk of the letter to repeat the primary message.

The goal of a letter or column is to repeat our central message, not attack critics.

Our messages:

 Everyone has the right to breathe clean, smoke-free air.

 Tobacco taxes save lives and money

 The Tobacco Prevention & Control Program is paying dividends for Wisconsin’s health

In a letter to the editor, you’ll only have 250 words. The body should include a positive message and a brief background. In a column, you’ll have 500 words. Include four or five paragraphs to summarize your main messages then use facts to back those messages up.

The Conclusion

Repeat the positive message and end with a call to action.

“Smoke-free air is good health policy and good business. We need our community leaders to understand the positive impact smoke-free policies can have on our families, employees, and visitors. In fact, our lives depend on it.”

Writing Tips Letters to the Editor / Op-Eds

Stay Positive

Don’t attack or respond to attacks. Acknowledge an attack only as a vehicle to leverage our positive message.

Keep it Short

Many daily newspapers have a 250-word limit. Columns are now restricted to 650 words, but papers prefer 500. Hit that word count. If you write longer, an editor is simply going to cut it – and you probably won’t like how it was edited. Do the editor’s work in advance, and you’ll likely see your entire piece run.

Avoid Numbers

Overuse of numbers dulls the reader’s eye. Use “about one third” instead of 31 percent. Use comparisons: More people are killed in Wisconsin by secondhand smoke than traffic accidents. If you have to use numbers, use them sparingly.

Tell a Story

If you’re writing a column, use a personal story as an example. That makes the argument real and personal – and much more likely to be read.

Keep it as Local as Possible

Refer to the local situation instead of using statewide statistics on tobacco. Use local statistics, like your legislative district’s Quit Line calls breakdown. The author should be local – and referencing local people or groups is an effective way to ensure papers will use your letter.

Short Paragraphs

You may not have noticed, but newspapers use one and two sentence paragraphs. They do this because the columns are narrow. Large paragraphs turn into large blocks of gray type.

Write Simply

Write as you speak. Write a draft off the top of your head just as you would talk to someone in person. Walk away. Reread it later. Edit it and send it in.

Just Do It…And Encourage Others

The most difficult part of letter writing is getting it done and submitting it to the paper. Letters not written do not get in the paper.

For more information about their program and resouces make sure you check out their webiste at Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention & Control Program

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