July 03, 2018

Elevating Your Words

A look behind the scenes of how Resistbot volunteers submit your letters to the editor every day.

by Naomi Zikmund-Fisher

Image via Ally Aubry

So, you’ve just used Resistbot to send a message to your Senator, Congressperson, or Governor. All is going as usual, when suddenly the bot tells you that your letter has qualified to be submitted as a Letter to the Editor. What happened? And what happens next?

The bot has randomly selected your letter based on an algorithm that takes into account the length, where you’re writing from, what you’re writing about and who represents you. We tweak it all the time, but today is your lucky day! If you choose to send your letter in, it is whisked away to the letters-to-the-editor inbox.

Around the country there is a small army — well, maybe more like a good sized platoon — of volunteers waiting to read your letter. Some days we have a lot of folks working, some days not as many. We can rarely get to all the letters that come in, but we try! We look at your letter for things the bot can’t see, like whether it makes sense, has the facts right, and calls for a specific action from your representative.

To be honest, we volunteers are also a little bit competitive. We’re trying to see who can get the most letters published, and we’re trying to cover the map on our website with as many dots as possible, representing as many different newspaper outlets as we can reach. If you look at our map, you’ll see lots of dots in some states and very few in others. So if you’re writing from Hawaii or North Dakota or Wyoming, we’re very likely to pick your letter!

See the live and interactive version at Resist.bot

Once we’ve found a letter we think we can get published, we consult our database of more than 650 newspapers nationwide, looking for the one you’ve asked us to submit to or just the nearest one to you. We learn a lot about the geography and politics of places none of us have ever been to by doing this job, and that’s part of what makes it interesting! Sometimes newspapers only take letter submissions via email, in which case we’ll email you with that information and give you the address to send the letter in yourself.

When we’ve found the right newspaper, we fill out the online submission form and edit your letter so it’s addressed to the editor rather than your elected officials. We submit the letter, send an email confirmation to you, and log it in a spreadsheet.

Now the waiting game begins. We give newspapers two weeks to publish your letter before we give up on them — most published letters appear faster, but some can take longer. Each day, I do a Google search for all of the letters that were submitted two weeks before. I then report the statistics back to the team, including what percentage of letters are getting published, who submitted the ones that were published for that day, and any new newspapers we’re putting on the map.

So, how’s it going? We’ve submitted over 4,500 letters and published over 775 — that we know of (we didn’t used to Google them, so it’s hard to be sure). We’ve published in 262 newspapers in 48 states. Recently we’ve been publishing between 50 and 150 letters a month. And if we submit your letter right now, there’s about a 28% chance it will be published.

If you don’t want to rely on random chance, you can use the editor keyword after your next letter, and the bot will get your letter to us. And hey, if you have a few extra minutes a day, we can always use more members for our volunteer editing brigade—email volunteer@resist.bot and we’ll get you enlisted right away.

Workerbot

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