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WRITING FOR THE MEDIA
Placing an Op-ed

National Op-eds

Regional/Local Op-eds

First, call and get all the information you need:

  1. Word length
  2. How to submit
  3. Whom to submit to
  4. How long submissions are held on to/considered and how to find out whether it has been accepted for publication
  5. Details on how to withdraw submissions
  6. Whether all submissions are exclusive to this publication
National Op-ed Placement

Examples: The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Knight-Ridder chain (they own several regional papers across the country).

Form: Must be tight, to the point, timely, and well-written (hiring a professional writer to help you can really pay off for national placements).

Scope: Must be of national or international scope.

Content: Should be a timely issue that already has gained coverage on the news side of the paper.

By-Line: For national papers, the more prominent the by-line, the better the chance for placement. You may want to consider going outside the "usual suspects." A well balanced, jointly signed piece with a prominent scientist, government official, or economist may be more easily placed than one signed only by an environmental leader.

Word Length: Should be roughly 750 words. Word length varies from paper to paper. You should call for guidelines.

Exclusivity: Pieces are submitted to national publications on an exclusive basis - once you submit a piece you must be rejected by them, or withdraw the piece verbally or in writing before you send it to another outlet or service.

Cover memos: All pieces should be accompanied by a cover note to the op-ed page editor. The cover note or memo should be short and refer to:

  1. the author
  2. the significance of the piece and its relevance to the publication's readers
  3. the timeliness of the issue
You may want to start the memo with: "I submit on behalf of the author the attached opinion piece on (the topic)..." Then, wrap it up with "We hope you find the piece interesting and consider it for placement in (the paper)."

Sending: Call the outlet and check, but it would be a safe bet to fax the piece and cover memo, and then send them by overnight mail. This will ensure that the op-ed is seen and put into circulation for consideration.

Follow-up: This is key. Call the following morning after submission. Please note that Op-Ed page editors and their assistants are deluged with submissions and follow-up calls each day. Keep it short - say you are calling to confirm whether they received the piece. If the editor or editor's assistant seems receptive, squeeze in a line about why the piece is particularly important/timely now - it may help put it on their radar screen.

Most places will tell you: "We'll call you if we are using it, don't call us." In that case, ask when they expect to make a decision and indicate that you'd like to submit it elsewhere if it doesn't suit their needs. Most editors understand this and will let you know when it's okay to call back for a final decision. But remember, every newspaper has its own policies. The New York Times, for example, holds it for ten days (you can withdraw it sooner if you let them know) and does not appreciate inquiry calls. On average, nationals should be given 4 business days after the initial follow-up call before checking in again. If the response is negative or non-committal, it's time to make a decision about moving on. If they indicate interest, you need to decide, perhaps in consultation with your client, if you should wait it out and for how long, or move to another outlet.

Keep it moving: A sure fire way to not get placed is to send in an op-ed and forget about it. Getting published can become a game of moving the piece around, in a way that maintains its timeliness while exhausting the most promising possibilities. If the national strategy fails, then it may be time to re-work the piece for regional papers or services. If you have not heard about your piece after one week, pull it and submit it somewhere else.

Want some examples?

  • Cover memo to Los Angeles Times
  • Op-ed from Los Angeles Times
  • Knight-Ridder Chain
  • Chicago Tribune

    Regional or Local Op-ed Placement

    Examples: Boston Globe, Miami Herald, North Carolina News & Observer, etc.

    Form: Must be well-written (in regional placement, local or regional representatives can often write the piece with editing assistance from a professional writer).

    Scope: Must have a regional or local hook - this is essential for regional placement.

    Content: Again, should be timely and of significance to the region.

    Byline: The more local the author, the better. This does not mean that the byline must be local, but it does help (some op-ed editors will tell you that they do not publish unsolicited pieces and many of them fill their pages with items from syndicated columnists only).

    Word Length: Check with the papers, but aim for 650 to 750 words.

    Exclusivity: When pitching an op-ed regionally, exclusivity is usually not an issue. You can submit the same piece (re-worked to fit the region) to several papers around the country at the same time. You should not, however, have the same piece simultaneously at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times, for example. Stay away from markets that might overlap, because if you don't, you will only succeed in upsetting the op-ed page editor and damaging your relationships with these papers. If you are uncertain about whether a paper demands exclusivity, ask.

    Cover Memos: See above, but add the regional/local significance.

    Sending: Call the paper and ask to whom it should be sent. Unless you have a large budget for overnighting hard copies, it's generally okay to fax submissions.

    Follow-up: See National Placement. Remember there's a fine line between nudging someone and annoying them.

    Keep it moving: With regional placements, keeping track of all the places you have sent the piece, including when it was sent, when calls should be made, and when to move it along can get confusing. So keep good notes and mark your calendar when it's time to move from one place to the next.

    Want some examples?

  • News & Record (Greensboro, NC)
  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  • Seattle Times

    Adapted from "Op-Eds: A Cost-Effective Strategy for Advocacy," by Denice Zeck and Edmund Rennolds. This guide is part of the series, "Strategic Communication for Nonprofits" published by the Benton Foundation and the Center for Strategic Communications.


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