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Is the traditional newspaper op-ed dead?
We ask because according to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), newspapers are dying, and so is their circulation.
The NAA’s most recent report shows that daily newspapers number just over 1,300 nationwide, with 900 publishing on Sundays. Total daily circulation has bottomed out at roughly 44 million. Sunday circulation, however, is up, just slightly, to about 49.5 million readers.
Yet even today, an op-ed piece (sometimes called a guest opinion or bylined article) published on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page can be worth tens of thousands of dollars in free, earned media.
Who doesn’t want that?
Fortunately, today’s newspaper op-ed shelf life is longer than the life of a sheet of newsprint. A published piece lives on past its publication date on the Internet, through re-postings on blogs and on social media. Cumulatively, that equals a gazillion eyeballs that still care about the op-ed page: industry experts, lawmakers, concerned citizens.
Here are some tips to write an effective op-ed piece that will land you in your local newspaper and, with the right word smiting, could end up in a top-tier publication.
1. Research your facts, jack.
Op-ends should steer your reader toward your point of view, but if you simply lace thought after thought with no statistical backbone, your piece will probably never see the ink of day. Include relevant, well-researched statistics in your op-ed. Make sure the sources represent a variety of voices in your piece. A minimum of three is a good goal; use more if the word count allows. Attribute each statistic, and save your original research so that you can back it up if you get challenged.
2. Do the word-count math.
Now more than ever, you have to make every word count. Virtually every outlet has a word-count limit, so go first to the outlet’s website and find their editorial policy. (It’s usually posted on the opinion or submissions page). If the word count is not available online, email or call the editorial page or opinion page editor and ask before you submit your piece.
If you have more words than the paper can print, you’re giving the editor license to cut your piece at will—which means your original message could be changed in a way you may not like.
Bottom line: Err on the short side.
3. Highlight your brand s-u-b-t-l-y.
Editors know that when you submit a bylined article, you are doing so with some intent to publicizeyour organization/brand. Be subtle about it.
You get a byline, so that’s one mention of your company name and website—which is enough. If you’re promoting internal research, feel free to include it (and source it) in the body of the article too, but again, proceed with caution. You don’t want your op-ed to be a love story about you by you. Such pieces will likely never be published by an experienced editor.
4. Match the news hook with the publication.
In PR we know all about the need for a news hook. This rule of thumb applies to op-eds, too. Make sure you are pitching an op-ed that is newsworthy to the audience you seek. Some examples of topics and outlets you could consider include:
• Financial: The Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, business journals
• National news: USA Today, New York Times, L.A. Times
• Public policy: Roll Call, The Hill
• Local issues: Local newspapers
• Trade-specific: Blogs and magazines of trade publications targeted to your issue or sector
Sometimes, your news hook will have a short shelf life. If it does, let the editor know theyhave a small window to feature your article. Otherwise, the best news hooks are those that have some leeway in timing, though not so much that your piece will be forgotten. This gives editors the chance to fit your piece among the regular columnists who are paid to write for their pages.
You’ll increase your chances for publicity if you care about what op-ed editors care about. They care about research, statistics, word count, the right balance of branding, and op-eds that have the right news hook for their audience.
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