Stop. Seriously, just STOP.
If that isn’t enough for you, then let me explain.
As a writer of letters (for that is always how you justify the writing of an open letter isn’t it?) as a mother, as a warrior, as a human being with a trite opinion, as a person with single thought and a pen ― for really that is all that qualifies me to have this opinion – I object strongly to the path that open letters have taken of late.
Once the favourite of the politically motivated like Martin Luther King from his Birmingham Jail, Emile Zola’s J’accuse! letter defending an anti-Semitic wrongful imprisonment and Siegfried Sassoon’s soldier’s declaration, this powerful penning even dates back as far as the epistles in the Bible (so a quick Wikipedia search tells me, for you won’t find any fresh research in any recent open letters).
Now, we have entered an age of digital disgruntlement. Rants, ruckuses and realizations all take place online. Facebook: an ever-present open letter to our friends and family. And open letters have become the go-to tool for celebrity self-promotion.
Jennifer Aniston who, perhaps suffering in the shadows of what was then the impeccable Brangelina, open letterered telling us woefully how horribly she is treated in the media. Renee Zellwegger (with a film to promote) whined that despite rumours, she had absolutely never in her life, no really never, ever, had plastic surgery.
Open letters are, at first glance, a demonstration that the architect cares about a cause or another person (Sinead O’Connor anyone?) but really, the content has become all about the letter writer. A private gripe masquerading as a proactive public announcement.
For the readers, it’s car crash TV, the equivalent to social media stalking or what used to be watching from behind your curtains as your neighbours have a very public row in the street.
Like the e-petitions that circulate from time to time, open letters are armchair activism at its worst. They are written to attack people or be offended on someone else’s behalf. Passive aggressive, self-indulgent pulp.
So to anyone planning to write an open letter, I say, have some dignity. Keep your chin up, keep your mouth shut and get on with your life.
Instead of joining the slacktivist masses, vote, join an organisation, attend a protest, visit your local community centre, write to your MP, do something practical, take action. Just actually do something.
In the words of a former media stalwart, ‘comment is free, but facts are sacred.’
How to write an open letter
Still want to right an open letter? OK, I concede that if you get it right, a well-crafted retort from someone in a position of authority with something genuine to add to a debate can be an effective promotional tool for your business. Here are a few tips on how to have your thoughts featured in the ‘letters to editors’ section of a publication.
Newsjack. Look up a story in the news and have an opinion about it.
Twist it. Have a viewpoint that no one else has yet had. Give a different perspective.
Be succinct. Keep it to 200-300 words.
Tell the reader who you are. Why are you writing this? What is your expertise? Why as a reader should I give two hoots about your opinion?
Give examples to back up your point. Remember your GCSEs? Give examples!
Personalise. Send your letter to only one media outlet or publication. Tailor it to their audience.
If you have been cited in a news story, you are almost obliged to respond. Get your pen out.
A few topic ideas
· Write to correct facts in a story
· Localise a national story
· Comment on a new law that’s come in
· Dissect recent trends
· Interpret new research
· Comment on seasonal topics.