As communications professionals, we are frequently asked to advise on how best to edit and help place opinion editorials (op-eds) in newspapers across the United States. It is one of the most rewarding assignments we undertake on behalf of our clients. Op-eds put the client’s point of view at the center of a public dialogue on an important issue of the day.
It is also incredibly difficult. Op-ed editors at newspapers like The New York Times (where op-eds have been renamed Guest Essays), The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal consider hundreds of submissions every day. Only a handful are selected for publication and the decision-making process is often shrouded in secrecy.
Below we offer guidance to improve the likelihood your op-ed is selected based on our experience of having placed dozens of these through the years, but also highlight the many alternatives and opportunities that exist today to share insights on important and newsworthy events.
Here first are five considerations that should inform the development of every op-ed.
Advance The Story. The best op-eds offer a distinct perspective that sheds new light on important issues of the day, educates the reader, and influences a broader debate on a topic pertinent to the public interest. They also get people talking and elicit a reaction. Which op-ed might you prefer to read, an op-ed where Santa Claus endorses Christmas, or an op-ed where Santa Claus endorses Hannukah? The former is predictable. The latter has the potential to grab the reader’s attention and draw her in: “He said what?”
Offer a Strong Point of View. As the saying goes, everyone has an opinion. The op-ed page seeks more than that, namely strong points of view that will influence the reader. That doesn’t exclude the opportunity for the author to inject subtlety, nuance or caution into a debate, but it takes courage to offer a perspective that will be scrutinized and debated by hundreds of thousands of readers. It’s important not only to state that opinion emphatically and with supporting facts, but also to acknowledge and address contrary points of view.
A Big Name Helps. A high-profile author whose affiliation is likely to be known to the reader – a former President, Nobel Prize winner, or even a celebrity – burnishes the reputation of the editorial page and makes the op-ed editor’s job easier because the piece itself doesn’t need to credential the author. The bar is higher for lesser-known authors, who constitute the majority of submissions. For those whose name alone might not open doors, the submission needs to both credential the author and articulate their view.
Do Your Homework. Many newspapers publish guidelines on the optimal length, format, and submission requirements for op-eds. They must be exclusive, and an outlet is less likely to consider an op-ed if the newspaper has editorialized the same position, or if a similar op-ed has been recently published elsewhere. In addition, the author should be prepared to submit to the newspaper’s editing and fact-checking process as well as its content licensing policy.
Advertising is Down the Hall. In our experience, self-congratulatory op-eds or those that simply restate well known corporate or industry positions will not be considered for publication, regardless of how passionately those views are held by the author.
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Following these guidelines can narrow long odds, but acceptance in top tier outlets is still far from assured. Fortunately, there are alternatives. Often wrongly overlooked, the opinion page of a local newspaper or industry trade publication can reach important community and customer audiences with a much higher likelihood of getting the editorial green light.
Another approach is self-publication in Medium, LinkedIn or a corporate blog. What these outlets might lack in cachet or reach, they more than make up for in editorial control and speed to publication.
For virtually every voice, there is an audience. Hewing to this guidance can help set expectations and provide authors with the best opportunities to see their name – and more importantly, their views – in print.