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Public relations pro tip: The letter to the editor

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources academics are often asked for interviews as expert sources in the news media. Serving in this capacity is an excellent way to share research-based information with the public and reinforce the important work done by UC ANR scientists.

UC ANR Strategic Communications encourages advisors and specialists to maintain open communications channels and build relationships with reporters, including those writing for small, local outlets, major metropolitan newspapers and trade publications. Another very effective outreach tool that is sometimes overlooked is the letter to the editor.

After an article is printed, academics may wish to praise the media for covering an important topic, provide data to support a point, give clarification on a subject, or suggest a correction on a factual error. This practice gets UC ANR onto a section of the paper that is perennially one of the most frequently read.

An example is a letter submitted last month by vice president Glenda Humiston after an op-ed was published in the Los Angeles Times (“Sacramento shouldn't be trying to get you to eat more beef” op-ed 2017). The musical artist who goes by Moby wrote about proposed legislation that would double the check off program for California beef. In the op-ed, Moby quotes statistics from the United Nations FAO that says global livestock represents nearly 15 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

In her letter, Humiston quoted an Environmental Protection Agency source that says livestock's contribution of greenhouse gas emission is less than 5 percent.

Humiston wrote:

“While it's true that cows emit methane, total livestock production in the U.S. accounts for just 4.2% of all greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2014, agriculture contributed 9% of the total GHG emissions while industry (21%), transportation (27%) and electricity (29%) contributed the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. Importantly, by eating invasive plants that fuel wildfires and crowd out native wildflowers, grazing can provide numerous ecosystem services.”

Humiston also used the opportunity to emphasize the importance of publicly funded agricultural research:

“Agricultural research improves animal nutrition and health, allowing farmers to reduce the carbon footprint of livestock while producing more food. Beef is a high-quality protein source. As we seek to improve farming practices, excessive focus on livestock as an emission source is the wrong path to optimize solutions for climate change.”

The UC ANR Strategic Communications office can help place letters to the editor and edit letters. For more information, contact Strategic Communications director Michael Janes at mejanes@ucanr.edu.

Posted on Monday, September 11, 2017 at 11:17 AM

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