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Opining on the Op-ed

If media relations was a microcosm of human society, op-eds would be the teenagers: Misunderstood—yet possessing so much potential if only they were approached the right way.
I’ve had countless op-eds come across my desk over the years, and I find them among the most interesting and enjoyable pieces to read, edit and pitch. At the same time, they can be some of the most difficult pieces to place—not because the opinions aren’t unique, or because the pieces aren’t well written. Most times they are impressive on both fronts. More often than not, an op-ed fails to gain placement simply because the author wrote it without a deep understanding of how the op-ed pages work—and in some cases, even what an op-ed is. (For example, they are not Letters to the Editor, and serve a very different purpose.)
To me, op-ed writing is part art (the writing), part science (fitting the piece into the right formula), and part perfect timing. But when everything comes together, a well-placed op-ed can change policy, influence public opinion, and advance debates.
So this week, as another academic year kicks off, I wanted to share two of the best explanations of what opinion editors are looking for that I’ve come across over the years –and continuously refer back to. They’re well circulated pieces, but there’s a reason for that!
The first is Adam Kushner’s “The Craft of Having an Opinion.” (Kushner is currently the executive editor at National Journal, but wrote this piece in 2006 while editor of The New Republic.)
The second is David Shipley’s “And Now a Word from Op-Ed.” (Shipley wrote this in 2004 as an editor at The New York Times. He’s now the executive editor of Bloomberg View.)