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Writing and Publishing an Op-Ed

Getting Started

Who reads opinion pieces?

National opinion articles are usually read by policymakers, academics, and important decision makers. If your goal is to reach the general public, an op-ed in a national paper such as the New York Times is not the best approach. To reach the public in a specific region, submit your piece to the local/regional paper. Finally, there are national chains, such as Knight-Ridder, that will run an op-ed. A piece like this may appear in local and regional papers all over the country.

Do Your Homework

Although most newspapers consider it a priority to maintain open access to their opinion pages, not all papers are receptive to publishing guest pieces from anyone, especially special interest groups. If you want to write on behalf of your organization, it's important to know the paper's policy. It is important to read the paper you wish to approach, find out whether or not it publishes guest columns, how frequently it does so and whether it prefers to publish columns by policymakers, "celebrity" journalists, academics or other types of authors. Celebrity journalists are people like George Will, George Stephanopolous and others.

By reading the paper, you will also get a sense of its political leanings. The Wall Street Journal, for example, only publishes conservative op-eds, while other newspapers will publish opinion pieces on both sides of an issue.

You should also read the paper regularly to understand the editorial direction of the paper. Papers may see no need for a guest column unless it is filling some void. They will not print a guest column that is merely echoing what another columnist has already written or what has already been articulated by the paper in an editorial. In fact, your best bet may be to write a column that takes direct exception to an editorial.

Contacting the Paper

When approaching a small newspaper, you may be dealing with the editorial pager editor or the chief editor. At a larger paper, however, you may be referred to the op-ed page editor. Once you know what you want to write, you should try discussing it with the person in charge of op-eds or commentaries. Explain what you want to write in response to something that has been printed in the paper, or that you want to express your views on an ongoing subject. Ask them their opinion, take any guidance they are willing to offer, but remember that they may be strapped for time like any other reporter. Many large newspaper also have recorded messages outlining their guidelines for submitting op-eds. Don't be surprised if you are transferred to this line.

Timing is Everything

Timing is the most important factor in submitting an op-ed. Is Congress or the state legislature about to cast a controversial vote? Is there an appropriate holiday or anniversary? Can you tie the op-ed to the release of a new report, a recent article, a popular movie, or event in your community? In many cases, it is best to submit your op-ed well in advance of a timely event, such as a news anniversary or important vote because editors plan their opinion pages a week or more in advance. When reacting to a news event, submit your piece as quickly as possible afterwards - no more than a week after it has been covered by the newspaper, preferably within two or three days.

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