Why target editorial/opinion pages?

The editorial/opinion page is one of the most widely read sections of a newspaper or magazine. In addition to educating the general public about emerging issues, editorials, opinion- editorials (op-eds), and letters to the editor are effective ways to reach opinion leaders and key decision-makers in your state. Being featured in the editorial/opinion pages will help raise the profile of your organization and infuse your point of view into debates on important issues.

Venues for Getting in the Editorial/Opinion Pages:

Op-Ed: An opinion-editorial, or op-ed, is an opinion piece sent in by a member of the community. Traditionally, it was placed opposite the newspaper’s editorial page, hence the name op-ed. However, it has now come to be known as an opinion-editorial.

Editorial: An editorial is an opinion piece written by a member of a publication’s staff or a contributing writer or editor.

Letter to the Editor: A letter to the editor is submitted by a member of the community, usually in response to something that has previously appeared in the publication.

Writing an Op-Ed

An op-ed should call for change, critique policy and/or highlight a problem facing the community.

Make It Timely. Choose a current topic, or “news peg,” to hang your opinion on.

Know Your Thesis. You should be able, to sum up, your argument in one sentence. If you can’t, think about it more before you begin writing.

Argue. You are trying to assert your point of view. Express your opinion in a persuasive, argumentative manner.

Support Your Claims. Include a few key facts and/or statistics from studies. Effective use of research can reinforce your argument.

Use Plain Language. Write as you would explain your argument to a friend who is not familiar with the issue.

Be Brief. State your opinion clearly and concisely, back it up with facts and examples, and then conclude. Even a well-argued piece may be refused if it is too long.

Because each paper has specific criteria for publishing op-eds, it is best to call the editorial department of the newspaper or magazine you are targeting to verify their policy, prior to submitting your piece. Determine length requirements, to whom you should address the final version, and whether you should send it via fax, e-mail or regular mail.

Format

Introduction

Your first paragraph should grab your readers’ attention and compel her or him to read on. Start with a surprising image or interesting anecdote that sums up what you are saying. Next, either in the first or second paragraph, state your thesis.

Body

The body of your op-ed should consist of evidence that backs up your argument. Before you give evidence, you might want to provide a brief background. Then, in subsequent paragraphs, state the remaining points of your argument, using data for support.

Conclusion

In the concluding paragraph, it is sometimes a good idea to rephrase or reference the kicker you began with. Also, try to finish with a call to action or something that leaves readers feeling empowered to influence the issue’s outcome. At the very end of the op-ed, provide a one-line biography of the author. (In some cases you may actually write the piece, but submit it under your director’s name, making her or him the author.)

Along with your op-ed, submit a cover letter that outlines your major points using a few sentences or bullets (see example below). Also include the author’s name, address and phone number in the cover letter. If a decision is made to print the piece, someone often will call. Submit your cover letter and op-ed to the Op- Ed Page Editor. (At some outlets this person may be the Editorial Page Editor, or Commentary Editor. It’s best to call the outlet and ask for the name and title of the appropriate contact.)

Sample Op-Ed Pitch Letter

(Date)

Dear Op-Ed Page Editor:

Consumer groups, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the President and even CEO’s have called for raising the minimum wage. This session, Congress will once again consider raising the Federal Minimum Wage.

Jane Union, President of Our Union—the organization for workers across our state—lays out in the enclosed op-ed compelling reasons for increasing the minimum wage:

Results in a direct increase in revenue for the state;

Creates much-needed jobs; and

Lifts millions of workers out of poverty.

I hope you will consider running the enclosed op-ed or editorializing on the subject. If you have any questions or need more information, please feel free to call me at 860-555-1212.

(signature block)

Placing an Editorial

Editorials outline a newspaper’s position on a newsworthy issue. Some possible editorial topics include: how the governor’s new budget will affect low-income people, what a new report on uninsured means for the state, or how a health care proposal pending in Congress will impact people in your community. The key is to convince the editorial writer(s) that the topic is relevant, newsworthy and worth taking a position on.

The first step in placing an editorial is to meet with editorial board staff members. Depending on the outlet, this may be a small or large group of the paper’s staff, including various reporters and editors. Call the Editorial Page Editor and ask who covers health for the editorial board. Then call that person, and describe the issue you want to discuss (e.g., a new study shows the number of uninsured children in Florida is increasing or the governor’s proposed budget will cut funding to vital Medicaid programs), and that you would like to meet with the paper or magazine’s editorial board.

The Meeting

The Editorial Board (ed-board) consists of writers and editors who meet on a regular basis to decide upon content for the publication’s editorial section. If the editorial board agrees to hear your case, here’s how to prepare:

Plan to present your case in 10-15 minutes. Know your thesis and prepare talking points to help you focus on the most important information during your presentation.

Give the editorial board members background information about the organization or coalition you are representing.

Bring studies, papers, and fact sheets to support your position. Your fact sheets are particularly important in summarizing the key points that you want the ed-board members to focus on. To make your viewpoint more credible, use various sources of data to support your claims.

Be prepared to answer questions. Editorial writers may want to ask you questions about related issues. Don’t feel you have to know the answer to every question or that you have to answer on the spot. It’s fine to say “I’ll have to look into that and give you a call,” or “Let me send you a study that can explain that issue better.”

To prepare, practice answering questions with someone who has only basic knowledge of the issue and with someone who knows the issue inside and out.

Remember: Since you will not be writing the editorial, your goal, in addition to getting an editorial about the issue placed, is to influence the way in which the publication addresses that issue.

Sometimes it is appropriate to bring one or two representatives from other groups who have the same position on the issue. An editorial board meeting is not meant to shine the spotlight on your organization, but to convince the paper to take a certain position, and bringing supporters or a list of groups that support your position can only help.

In Conclusion

Editorials, opinion-editorials and letters to the editor are wonderful venues for expressing your points of view. Without overdoing it, build a relationship with editorial writers and editors by keeping them updated from time to time about what’s going on as it pertains to the issues they’re working on. Gaining their support for an issue will better position your organization or coalition to get placement on the editorial pages and achieve success on the issues you care about.