Editorials are opinion pieces that are printed daily in newspapers and represent the official position of the newspaper (though papers generally maintain a strict wall between their editorial and news coverage). In most papers you find editorials on the left side of the last page of the front-page section of the paper.
Editorials are powerful because they carry the credibility of a voice that's typically perceived as independent and unbiased. While newspapers tend to have distinct political leanings, they don't have a direct interest in the outcome of any given issue.
When developing your list of editorialists to speak to, you should think about both the circulation size as well as the ideological leanings of the paper.
When it comes to the size of the papers, generally the bigger the newspaper the better. You shouldn't neglect small papers, but larger papers are much more influential.
If you have a progressive petition, ideologically, you obviously will get the best results speaking to liberal papers. You also at times will get favorable editorials from more moderate papers. Staunchly conservative editorial pages are generally not worth talking to, because more often than not if they write, it won't be helpful. The only really good way to find out the ideological leanings of the paper is to read their editorials. You can build your list of the papers in each state as well as their contact info here: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/media/.
Every newspaper has a staff specifically in charge of the opinion page. Larger newspapers may have someone a whole team of people who do nothing but write editorials, while small papers might have one person who handles editorials, op-eds, and letters to the editor. Typically the only way to find out who's in charge of what is to call the paper directly and ask.
A small package of background materials will help provide credibility to your argument and also just make it easier for the editorialist to put together a piece in the event that they decide to write. Because editorialists often have to write two or three pieces a day, they don't have a ton of time to research. Therefore if you can provide a simple, clear factsheet or memo on the issue, that will help them and you.
You have two choices here: you can either ask for a meeting in person or you can call them. The first time you reach out to an editorialist, it is most effective to ask for a meeting so that you can develop a deeper professional relationship. But if you don't have time for a meeting, don't hesitate to just call.
To get an editorialist to write, you need to convince them of two things. First, you need to convince them that your issue is newsworthy. If they don't think it's newsworthy, they simply will not write at all. The key elements of newsworthiness are: timely, local, and conflict-oriented. Then, once you've convinced them it's newsworthy, you need them to support your position.
Tips for a great editorial call:
Be sure to ask if they're busy, and if they say yes, respect their time and call back when they say they're available to talk.
Stress the local relevance and timeliness of your issue.
Be persistent but friendly.
Ask very directly if they will write (or meet with you, if you are just calling to ask for a meeting)
If and when your editorial is printed, be sure to get copies and share it with your organizer, regional coordinator, and other members of your council.