Bring the Light, Bring the Heat:
Write an Op-Ed or Letter to the Editor In Support of Prevention
Welcome to Week Three of our August Recess Campaign for Community Prevention! Last week, we helped you craft comments for online publications in support of prevention. Today, we’re asking you to up the ante: pen a letter to the editor or Op-ed, and shout out your community’s prevention successes. As the summer rolls on, Senators and Representatives are still in their home districts for the next few weeks, so now is a great time to make your voices heard in the media – especially in local outlets.
We know that the media shapes our understanding and impacts how we respond to events and issues. We can use the media’s influence to inform the public and decision-makers about the values of community prevention. But it’s not enough to simply respond to the coverage already out there – it’s up to all of us to speak up and make sure that we are actively shaping the dialogue so that the media and our legislators get the message: prevention works, and here’s how.
When you tell your prevention story, make sure you mention the Prevention and Public Health Fund, the best example of federal prevention dollars at work. If you had funding from the Fund, describe it. If you didn’t, mention that the Fund supports projects like yours around the country.
Here are our tips for writing a letter to the editor and op-ed:
- Make it relevant – find a hook. What makes your opinion important and newsworthy? Has your community prevention effort improved health, saved money, fostered new coalitions or lifted up local voices? Is it a successful tool to address spiraling state or local healthcare costs, or to bring new business investments to your community? Is there new or important news or information that's relevant to your work -- such as new data on the role of schools in providing support for physical activity opportunities, a new report on the health and economic benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, or this recent poll that found strong support in California for efforts to help kids walk and bike to school? Or, you could respond to prevention stories already in the news and tie in similar efforts happening in your community, like public housing going smoke-free in Newton MA, or a biking movement gaining traction in Texas.
- Cue the environment first. Paint a picture that describes why community environments matter: health happens in our communities, in the places we live and work. If we really want to drive down healthcare costs and save lives, we need prevention strategies that keep us healthy and safe, in the first place. Cueing the environment enables you to emphasize how environments shape behaviors, and tell a story that promotes prevention as the solution. Learn more with our Community Prevention Talking Points.
- Find an interesting co-author. Reporters and readers are not surprised when public health leaders speak out about the importance of community prevention. However, when the message is echoed by credible messengers beyond the usual suspects, people really begin to pay attention. Consider a co-author who can offer a different point of view, and can enhance your credibility. A business leader, faith leader, or community member can make your piece more publishable and more relatable to a broader audience.
We’ve compiled even more tips in our Media Advocacy Toolkit, which includes advice on communicating with the media, a sample op-ed and best practices for writing op-eds and letters to the editor. We hope you’ll take the time this week to engage in media advocacy to make the case for prevention, and please let us know if you get published.