Make Your Voice Heard, April 28, 2017

Matthew Bernstein (L), Co-chair Barbara Beckwith, & Virginia Marshall


“What intrigues you – or makes you throw down your newspaper?” asked Matthew Bernstein at our May “Make Your Voice Heard” panel and roundtable. As Boston Globe Letters editor, he likes tough, literate, witty pieces and looks for “passionate engagement” of all kinds. Because he gets few of them, he welcomes letters from “the right wing.” He’ll reject a letter that’s too full of data (fact-checking is time-consuming), has clearly been submitted to multiple publications, or is too long. He prefers letters that are under 250 words, letters that make just one or two points. He mentioned a favorite from a librarian that was just 34 words, but we know of one by NWU member Martin G. Evans that bests that word count at just 31 words.
Check out the Letters section and its submissions information here
“Do you have an experience that changed your life?” Virginia Marshall, one of WBUR’s editors of the station’s online commentary Cognoscenti, asked the assembled writers. Cognoscenti pieces range from newsy (sanctuary cities) and political (a new bill important to the community) to pop culture or parenting (including taking care of older parents). All information needs to be sourced, including relevant links. Virginia gets between five and ten submissions a day, and posts two commentaries a day, including those by regulars such as Steve Almond. Check out the Cognoscenti website and you will find a range of commentaries by NWU-Boston members.
The writers attending the event pressed for essential information on pay and rights. We learned that Cognoscenti will pay $50 per commentary, but you must ask for it or they’ll assume that you are donating your work. The Globe does not pay for letters. One writer praised Cognoscenti’s quick response time (about 48 hours). Another says she never knows when her letters appear in the Globe, pressing Bernstein to notify writers, which he said he’d try to do. “I’m solo editor and get 50 emailed submissions a day – and more by mail,” he explained, adding: “I like it that you hold the Globe’s feet to the fire.” 
As for the core question: What difference does it make to be published on Cognoscenti or as a Globe letter? Does your voice really get heard? Bernstein pointed to the 85-year-old woman whose letter about anti-Semitism resulted in the Globe publishing an article about her. And the daughter of civil rights advocate Leonard Zakim once wrote a letter to say that a taxi carrying a Zakim bridge logo had refused to pick her up when he saw she was in a wheelchair. Her letter led to a Globe article, which led to action by the Boston officials to insure that cabs follow wheelchair protocol. More recently, NWU member Shane Snowdon’s Cognoscenti piece related to distracted driving led to her being interviewed on NPR by Scott Simon.