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Writing an Op-Ed

Raise Your Voice to Keep Infant Formula Marketing Out of Hospitals

Writing an Op-Ed

1. Find a news hook. You can have a great topic for your op-ed, but if it doesn’t relate to the current news, editors won’t pick it to be published. If your local newspaper recently ran a story on the letter Public Citizen and cosigning organizations sent to your local hospital, you’ve got a great starting point. But even if your paper hasn’t covered the campaign directly, you can make connections between formula marketing and current events in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:

  • Recent health and nutrition news: Review the health risks of not breastfeeding (see fact sheet) and connect those with recent news stories. For example, obesity is often in the news, and we know formula feeding increases the risks of obesity in children. Or, you may want to link your op-ed to recent nutrition studies or recommendations, even if they aren’t related to infant formula. (i.e. “We’ve heard a lot lately about the best foods for adults to eat. A common hospital practice here in (town x) may be making it harder to provide babies with the best food they can get…”
  • Commercialism news: Pick up on recent stories about excessive advertising and marketing in our culture and tie formula marketing to this phenomenon.
  • Parenting news: Situate your op-ed in the context of stories about the challenges parents face – your op-ed highlights a practice that interferes with parents’ feeding their children in the best way possible.
  • Corporate malfeasance news: Tie your op-ed to news about corporations failing to act responsibly, hindering the public good, or interfering with public health goals.

2. Make it personal. Your personal stories about infant formula marketing are particularly powerful tools. Use them! Whether your received a formula sample in hospital and used it, came close to using it, refused to bring it home with you, etc. your personal story helps readers understand why the issue is important. It may be useful to situate your experience of receiving a formula sample in the wider context of available supports for breastfeeding. For example, combined with the lack of guidance about breastfeeding that you received in the hospital, was it even harder to resist the allure of the formula sample when you (or your partner) were struggling in your first few days at home? Putting this issue in the larger picture of institutional support for breastfeeding can help show how it is connected to a bigger public health issue. Maybe you couldn’t or chose not to breastfeed; your piece can be just as effective at highlighting the ethical failings of marketing infant formula in hospitals. Supportive perspectives of formula-feeding families can be particularly helpful in conveying to readers that this campaign is not about pitting individual family’s feeding decisions against one another – it’s about the actions of formula companies and hospitals’ policies.

3. Pick a target paper. Look at the op-ed pages of some papers that you would like to see your op-ed in. Do they accept op-eds from readers? What tone do those take and what sort of topics are they interested in? How long are they? Your local paper may not have as big a readership as The New York Times, but it may be eager to publish an op-ed with a local focus by a local author. Pick a first choice paper and tailor your op-ed to it.

4. Pitch it. Find your target paper’s op-ed submission information on the paper’s website. Send your op-ed in the body of an email, and include a brief note at the top explaining the context for your op-ed and providing your contact information. If you don’t hear back from the editors in a couple of days, send them another note or call the editorial department to follow up. If your first choice paper doesn’t accept it, don’t give up! Pick your second choice paper and try again.

5. Share it. Once it’s published, send your op-ed to friends, families, bloggers you now, and organizations working on the issue. Use social media to promote it. Make sure it’s read and noticed!

Writing a Letter to the Editor

Instead of writing a full op-ed, you might want to respond to news article or another person’s op-ed with a letter to the editor. Here are some tips for your letter:

  • Be timely. Email your letter within a day or two of the article you’re responding to being published. Ideally, send it later on the same day.
  • Be brief. Stay within the word limit for letters to the paper, but if you can say your piece in even fewer words, do it.
  • Be surprising. The best letters to the editor make readers look at an issue in a new way – introduce interesting facts that weren’t in the paper’s coverage of the issue, or look at the same facts from a different angle.
  • Note: Public Citizen would like to acknowledge People for the American Way’s contributions to the instructions above.