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 The art of the op-ed

The art of the op-ed

One of the most powerful pieces of written communication is the op-ed — which is an abbreviation of its customary location in a newspaper (“opposite” the “editorial” page). Op-eds are brief and thought-provoking opinion or commentary pieces not produced by the editorial board of a paper. They’re typically written by a subject-matter expert or a person with a unique perspective on an issue, or by a columnist syndicated or employed by the paper.

An op-ed can be an incredibly effective way to advocate objectives, spark action, and engage allies or potential partners or customers. Still, putting an opinion to paper is often a source of anxiety and may feel like a tremendous task. In these days of social polarization, crafting a constructive op-ed requires some delicacy. And then there’s the matter of getting it published.

Media Intelligence

To hone collective skill and foster good working relationships, public relations agencies periodically invite journalists to meet and share insights about their areas of expertise, the current media landscape, and the priorities and workflow at their particular outlets.

These media intelligence briefings are largely informal but absolutely invaluable in helping PR pros understand how best to work with reporters and editors, as well as refine our counsel and services for clients.

Sterling Communications was pleased to host a media intelligence briefing with San Jose Mercury News Editorial Page Editor Ed Clendaniel recently. During the course of our session, Ed was gracious enough to outline his general process for choosing which op-eds get published amongst the dozens of daily submissions he receives. Though there is no single formula for success and news cycles move quickly, there are several best practices that can catch an editor’s eye and smooth the way.

Op-ed insight

Here’s what to keep in mind when putting your thoughts together for the public to read in a timely manner.

Do

  • Have a point. And state it at the beginning. Readership surveys show 80% of readers scan the headline and the first paragraph or two before moving on. Supplying a clever title for your piece will make an impression. And the first few lines of your op-ed should grab attention and get your message across.
  • Try to evoke an emotion. The best opinion pieces make the reader feel as well as think. If you can make them laugh, cry, fume, or nod in agreement, you have written a piece they will remember.
  • Focus on what is most important. Keep in mind what is relevant for the newspaper you are writing for and its readership. Some outlets give preference to local or regional issues, whereas others are interested in national or global perspectives or industry-specific concerns. Those parameters matter.

Don’t

  • Disregard the word count. Publications will define their expectations for opinion pieces and require that they’re met to be eligible for publication. This is especially applicable with print publications. Make sure you’re familiar with them prior to submitting.
  • Reference an artificial holiday. If there’s an upcoming election and you submit an op-ed on observing Bedbug Awareness Week, prepare to be disappointed.
  • Counter an editorial or someone else’s op-ed with a point-by-point analysis. Instead, make the best argument you can for why your viewpoint is the better approach. Many editorial boards actually love publishing opposing positions; however, they need to be able to stand on their own merit.

Engaging with readers through op-eds can be a great opportunity to further communication goals and reach a broad audience, so long as your message is timely, interesting, and a good fit for the outlet. If you’d like to learn more about developing an op-ed, contact us at go@sterlingpr.com.