Thursday, 28 February 2008
Quick quiz: What do you think the most popular section of any newspaper is? Sports? No. Front page? No. Comics? No (well, maybe on Sundays). Give up? Whether it's at the tail end of the ‘A' pages or a whole section unto itself, people rarely put down a newspaper without reading an editorial or letter to the editor.
Let's face it, the opinion section is sexy. It has the one thing all the other sections lack-OPINIONS. And, whether we agree or disagree, we just love to know what other people think. That makes the opinion pages prime real estate.
So, now what? Obviously, you want to take advantage of the opportunity to reach such a large audience with your message, but how? For the beginners in the class, I suggest writing a letter to the editor (we'll cover editorials in a later post). Picture this:
You read a story in the morning paper. The water utility is proposing a rate increase to cover the cost of replacing some 50-year-old pipes. A local neighborhood association is protesting the increase. You know that not replacing those pipes means the system will be prone to failure. Because you know timing and length are critical to whether or not a letter gets published, you check the paper's Web site for letter to the editor guidelines and submit 150 words-along with your mailing address, phone number and email address-that very afternoon. You explain that a failure in the system will affect the health and welfare of the families in that neighborhood. You explain that it has been 10 years since the last increase and construction costs are rising. You explain why it's more cost-effective to take action now, instead of after something bad happens. Someone reads it, sees that you, a civil engineer (someone whose opinion they respect), thinks the increase is necessary. They decide you just might be on to something. They stop protesting the increase. Mission accomplished.
The moral of this story: If you wait for the public to ask what you think, you'll always be a wallflower. But, if you start talking, they'll start listening.