Battle intensifies for spot on Op-Ed page

Thanks to the Internet, everyone has - and can voice - an opinion these days.

Thanks to the Internet, everyone has – and can voice – an opinion these days.

But despite the endless number of bloggers and sometimes-snarky Web sites eager to offer their takes on the news of the day, the traditional Op-Ed sections in newspapers and general-interest magazines are still very influential in shaping the public debate.

David Lerner, president of progressive agency Riptide Communications, suggests this is true both locally and nationally.

“The editorial pages of top-tier outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today remain high priorities for our clients,” he says.

However, getting into the Op-Ed sections of many newspapers is becoming more challenging, as many reserve daily slots for syndicated national columnists. This leaves a small amount of space for other pieces by local contributors.

“For us, the biggest force of change is that the size of the individual pages is smaller,” notes David Holwerk, editorial page editor at The Sacramento Bee and president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers. “We used to have room to run four Op-Eds, but now we only have room for three.”

The competition for those slots is fierce. Holwerk says the criteria he mostly uses is a great local hook.

“If it doesn't have at least a clear Northern California – if not a Sacramento-specific angle – it won't have much of a chance,” he adds.

Miriam Pepper, VP of the editorial page at The Kansas City Star, agrees that a local angle is most important for editorial pages, adding that concept applies to online as well as print Op-Ed pages.

“Everybody traditionally thinks that it only matters if it's in print, but we have editorials posted online only that get a lot of comments and interest,” she says. “But what I've seen, as well as heard, from other editorial page editors, is that when you tell PR people you can post it online right now, but can't guarantee print, some of them want to pull the editorial back. So for us it's a matter of converting PR to the view that online is legitimate, too.”

Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive and director of the Progressive Media Project, says a trend he's recently seen is a focus on shorter, more direct pieces.

“The long form has disappeared both in print and online,” he says.

Through the Progressive Media Project, Rothschild syndicates Op-Eds in newspapers around the country. He adds that the author of the editorial plays a surprisingly small role in what gets published and what doesn't.

“What's important to me and other editorial [page] editors is the timeliness and directness of the argument,” Rothschild adds.

Pitching...Op-Ed pieces
Editorial page editors won't commit to running an editorial until they've seen the final version, so don't bother pitching an Op-Ed idea in a paragraph. Instead, send the finished piece in your initial pitch

Editorial pages have plenty of syndicated columnists who write about national issues. So focus on either local issues or angles to national stories

Most editorial page editors want exclusives, so work with your client to pick the right outlet, and make sure you get the piece to them well before you want it run

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