Op-eds are one of the most powerful and persuasive tools you can use to reach your audience. Opinion pages are widely read by community leaders, elected officials, and other key decision-makers. One of Dan’s professors, Renee Hobbs once said, “the editorial page is where civic leaders go to have a discussion.”
Furthermore, the opinion page is a forum for individuals to publish their opinions. Contrary to what you might think, your local newspaper WANTS to hear from you.
That being said, opinion editors do receive a lot of submissions— sometimes thousands — in a single week. So, you want your piece to be unique.
Some tips are fairly straightforward: make sure your piece doesn’t have typos, always spell and grammar-check, and always present something thoughtful and professional. But opinion editors also look beyond these basics when considering a piece for publication that may be less obvious to the uninitiated op-ed author.
We conferred with a local opinion pages editor we have worked with over the years, and are sharing four key elements editors look for when reviewing pieces submitted by local voices, as well as links to example op-eds that embody each element.
For a piece to stand out, it should:
- Be Timely & Newsworthy
- Pieces that reference or are relevant to current events are much more likely to get published than opinion pieces on more evergreen, but less timely, topics.
- Pieces that are not time-bound are better fits for a blog or site like Medium.
- Have a Connection to the Community
- An op-ed should be relevant to the community that the paper serves.
- Tell the reader how they are impacted by an issue or problem. How are you addressing it in your piece? How will the community be impacted or changed if the problem is not addressed?
- Look to these questions to emphasize your local hook— show why the specific audience at this newspaper should care about your issue.
- Ask the Community for Help
- Include a call to action in your piece to make the reader part of the solution.
- Pieces that offer a specific, active role for the reader to take in addressing the problem discussed in your op-ed tend to be stronger and are more likely to run.
- For instance, if your op-ed is about opposing or supporting a piece of federal legislation, include the phone numbers to local federal elected officials and invite readers to call those officials.
- Look to the Future
- People want to feel hopeful. Outline your vision of the future and chart a path forward to get there. Don’t just point out a problem— propose a solution, and paint a vision of what the solution would look like in action.
- You’ve asked the reader to participate in a solution. Now, take it one step further to tell people what life will look like if your effort is successful.
The specific requirements for each opinion piece may vary by outlet. If an opinion piece is not accepted, it’s a valuable best practice to ask the opinion editor what you could have done differently. Many editors are more than happy to share feedback.
And, if you’re feeling unaccustomed to the world of op-eds, remember: Your fresh eyes are an asset. Editors want to offer their readers a diverse range of community voices on a given issue, not just the same local politicians from week to week. If you feel green and new to the world of opinion pages, you’re probably exactly who an editor wants to hear from. By letting your voice shine and referring to the tips above, you should be in a great position to get your op-ed placed.