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Contact the Media

A. Write a Letter to the Editor

Studies show that people read the letters to the editor section more than they read the editorials by journalists. Moreover, letters to the editor are widely read by community leaders and lawmakers to gauge public sentiment about current issues in the news. That’s why it is critical that mental health-related articles, editorials and letters to the editor be published in newspapers, magazines, newsletters and websites or other electronic publications on a regular basis.

Be Clear, Brief and Concise

Check the newspaper’s guidelines for writing letters, which should be clearly stated on the editorial page of your newspaper. Be sure to include your name, address and telephone number on your letter, as anonymous letters will not be accepted. Address your letter “Dear Editor.” Letters should never exceed one page – preferably less than 250 words – nor should they cover more than one topic. State the purpose in the first paragraph.

Focus on Current Mental Health Issues

Write your letters on debates, issues or legislation happening right now. Respond only to recently printed stories or editorials. By discussing current mental health issues, your letters stand a better chance of getting printed.

Don’t Be Discouraged If Your Letter Is Not Published

Most publications receive more letters than they can print and will often print one letter as a representative of others. So keep trying! Unpublished letters are still read by the editors and can help sway them to cover topics more thoroughly.

B. Write an Opinion Editorial

What Is an Opinion Editorial?

An opinion editorial or op-ed is an essay/article written by a guest writer published in the opinion section of a newspaper (opposite the editorial page). National and community opinion leaders often write the articles.

A local newspaper is more apt to allow a community leader to author an opinion editorial. Do you want the focus of the article to be about mental illness? Then it makes sense to find a local leader who may have some name recognition or standing in the community. Other potential authors could be mental health activists, local elected officials, or other members of the community who are recognized for their ongoing mental health-related support.

What Is the Difference between a Letter to the Editor and an Opinion Editorial?

Letters to the editor are the response of readers to articles or editorials in the newspaper. Letters to the editor allow readers to offer a short rebuttal to an article or commentary, or add a crucial missing perspective. Most letters to the editor are between 150 and 250 words. An op-ed or opinion editorial is an essay/article (usually between 750 and 1,000 words) written by a guest writer that is published in the opinion section of a newspaper and signed by a well-known person – a political leader, a mental health expert or mental health activist.

How to Place an Opinion Editorial

Although most newspapers keep an open mind in determining the content of their opinion editorials, some newspapers will be more inclined than others to publish an opinion piece on mental illness issues. That’s why it is important to research the newspaper in advance to understand what kind of editorials it publishes, as well as what issues are covered in the news stories. Remember that a newspaper will not publish a story unless it feels it represents a unique or different perspective.

When you have decided to write an opinion editorial, arrange a meeting with the opinion editorial page editor to discuss your ideas and the subject you wish to write about for the newspaper. If they agree to publish your opinion editorial, make sure you get the details on how long the story should be and be certain observe all deadlines. Finally, when the story is printed, write a thank-you note to the editor and keep in touch to update them with additional information on that particular mental health issue.

What to Say in an Op-Ed

When writing an opinion editorial, consider the following outline:

Op-eds should be timely, lively and present strong arguments.

Editors want readers to say, “Wow, did you see that piece today?” They are looking for an unusual or provocative opinion on a current issue, a call-to-arms on a neglected topic, bite and wit, or an expert take on an issue by a well-known name. Op-ed page editors are not looking for event announcements, promotional materials or generic ideas.

Determine your goal and audience.

It could be increasing funding, or educating the public on a crucial mental health issue. Who could best help you in your goal? The general public? Teens? Seniors? Consumers? Local elected officials? Then, determine which news outlet can best deliver your op-ed to your targeted audience. Maybe it’s a local weekly community newspaper or a professional journal/magazine, or a national daily newspaper.

Figure out what you want to say and who can say it.

Be able to summarize your point in a single, clear sentence. Find a well-known person – a political leader, a mental health expert or mental health activist – who can sign the column’s byline.

Make it short.

Aim for a first draft of about 1,000 words. Read over what you’ve written. Eliminate unnecessary words, repetitious or stray ideas. Trim words, not ideas. Give the op-ed to a friend and ask for suggestions and comments. Include those that make sense and edit it down to 750 words. Restate your key argument at the end.

Make your article timely.

Link your op-ed to a newly released report, a holiday or anniversary, or any relevant upcoming event. Or tie the subject of your letter to a recent article, editorial or column in that newspaper. Use that article as a hook for communicating your message.

Make your points compelling.

The first sentence should grab the reader’s attention, and everything that follows should keep it. Illustrate your case with vivid examples and memorable facts. Defend it with a few strong arguments. Be short and specific. Use a lively, active voice. Give readers the minimum background they need to understand your case. Don’t bog them down with jargon or too many statistics. If there are opponents to your issue, mention your opponents’ claims and dismantle them with common sense, past history, contradicting facts, moral outrage – whatever is needed.

Strengthen your message with facts.

Back up your statements with facts about the issue.

Localize your letter.

Although mental health and mental illness are very broad issues and touch lives all across Ontario, the audience for your opinion editorial will want to know how the issue you are writing about impacts their community.

What to Do After You’ve Written Your Op-Ed

Submit the piece.

E-mail and/or fax are the least expensive and fastest methods. Include a short cover letter with your name and title, affiliation (if any), address, e-mail, and day and evening phone numbers.

Follow up and wait.

Once it’s been sent, don’t call the newspaper, magazine or publication repeatedly. If they’re going to publish your piece, they’ll call you. Be ready to make updates and revisions just before publication, especially if several weeks have passed since you submitted it.

Don’t be discouraged.

If your op-ed is rejected, don’t be discouraged. Newspapers and magazines receive a huge volume of submissions, all competing for space on the page. Try sending your op-ed to another news outlet. Keep writing and submitting pieces. Often, it is just a matter of your op-ed being at the right place at the right time.

Leverage your success.

If your piece does get published, send copies to funders, board members, journalists, elected officials, colleagues and other allies. An op-ed can serve as a springboard to radio and television talk-show appearances, panel discussions and a host of other media opportunities.

C. Call a Talk Show

Calling the television or radio talk shows in your area is a great way to get your message to thousands of listeners. Call your local radio and television stations and ask if they have any talk shows.

If so, and the topic is relevant, make an effort to call in and share short, concise statements about current mental health issues. If there is a mental health-related issue making its way through the news of the day, the host may choose to keep the topic on the air for several minutes.

Also, try contacting the producer of the call-in program and urge him or her to cover a specific mental health-related issue such as the need for:

  • an increase to Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rates
  • investment into supportive and subsidized housing programs
  • support for employment programs and consumer-run businesses
  • investment into consumer-survivor supports
  • investment into programs for family members

Give the producer of the program the CMHA, Ontario telephone number to ensure a knowledgeable panel participant for the program you are suggesting.

If the station agrees to do the program, be sure to inform your local CMHA branch, your friends and family, and encourage them to listen and actively participate in the show.