Newspapers: The Black and White on Getting into Print

1. Op-Ed Pieces
Local newspapers have a page devoted to opinion and analysis of current issues by knowledgeable persons from around the community and in some cases, around the country. On weekdays it is located opposite the editorial page hence named “op-ed”. Many newspapers also devote entire sections in their weekend editions for this purpose.

Submitting articles to the op-ed section of local or national newspapers is probably the best means available to our community to influence the perceptions of the media and  the general public. If you follow these basic procedural and substantive guidelines, it is more likely that your thoughts will be published and reach your intended audience.

On Procedure

Observe the specific guidelines of the newspaper for submitting op-ed pieces, or your piece may not be read. Each newspaper has its own requirements concerning word length and means of submission. As a rule, weekday editions accept articles between 700 and 900 words in length, while weekend sections often publish slightly longer and more analytical pieces. Some newspapers accept articles by fax: others prefer submission by mail. Call the newspaper’s op-ed department for its specific procedures.

Include a SHORT  cover letter with your article, addressing the editorial or op-ed page editor by name. Include a sentence or two on yourself, your organization, and on the topic you are writing, but do not go into elaborate descriptions of your background or the subject matter. Do include your telephone number, because if the editor decides to use your piece, he or she will want to call you.

Make absolutely certain there are no spelling, typographical, or grammatical errors in your article and cover letter. Typing and layout should appear neat and professional.

Your article cannot be published in more than one newspaper because of copy right laws. If you send your paper to several at the same time and one of them decides to run it, contact the others immediately and tell them you are withdrawing it from consideration.

On Substance

Get to the point quickly. Do not take up too much space in the beginning of the article introducing your subject. Your main thesis should be stated at the outset and then elaborated upon rather than the reverse.

Stay within established intellectual parameters. If you include ideas considered to be on the “fringe” of acceptable debate, such as conspiracy theories and the like, the editor will not read any further and will automatically reject your piece.

If you wish to introduce a new concept or state a fact which is not widely known, you must explain it logically and prove its validity in a convincing manner. Such points must be fully presented, not assumed or woven into the language.

Be topical. Do not use up a lot of space rehashing historical arguments unless they are new to your intended readers and impact directly upon the current frame of debate. Otherwise, historical references should be made only in passing.

Stay on cutting edge. Dramatic changes occur in the world every week and sometimes even on a daily basis, and current frameworks of discussion vary accordingly. Train your eye to the future and not to the past; keep your ideas one step ahead of the news rather than one step behind it.

Be careful with adjectives, as their overuse is often interpreted as emotional or propagandistic. Even if you are not objective, try to write so that your conclusions appear to be arrived at objectively.

2. Letters to the Editor

In most newspapers, Letters to the Editor are written in response to a news article, editorial or ed-op piece already published, but not always. Check your newspaper for its specific format.

Send your letter to the editorial page editor and include your name, address and telephone number. The salutation should read “To the Editor”. Again avoid grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors. The typing and layout should be neat and professional.

Keep it short and concise. If you are responding to an article that was published in the newspaper, your very first sentence should refer to the author and title of the piece, the thesis that you disagree with, and (in parenthesis) the date and section of publication. Then, state your point and explain it in clear and logical fashion, in 400 words or less. Under no circumstances should you address more than one subject in one letter, as this will appear to the editors as rambling.

Submitting your letter by E-mail:

Most major newspapers already have internet sites with many more being  added daily. These sites usually have E-mail addresses of editorial staff and a special address for letters to the editor. Check your paper for details. Sending a letter to the editor or any other message you would like conveyed to the media via the internet is by far the fastest way of getting your message across. Some rules do apply however:

  • Don't send a message from your e-mail account at work unless you explicitly say that the opinions you are expressing are entirely yours and NOT that of your employer. Check with your employer if there are any restrictions regarding use of your e-mail account for this purpose. Sending an e-mail from your company account is like typing your letter to the editor on your company’s letterhead.
  • If you are sending your through your home or school account the above rule does not apply but all the previous guidelines should be followed.
  • The subject section of your e-mail will be the first thing that the person receiving your message will read. Make this as concise as possible.
  • Always include a phone number where you can be contacted. If your letter is selected for publishing you should expect to receive an authentication call from the paper within the next two days.
3. Educating the Editors

Whether your local newspaper has tremendous promise, unabashed bias, or is somewhere in between, it is a good idea for your community to meet its editorial board in order to eliminate stereotypes and keep the newspaper abreast on issues of concern.

 Bring together no more than three or four members of your community to meet with the editorial board of the newspaper. Those you choose as your representatives should be articulate and extremely knowledgeable about key issues.

Choose a particular topic of concern that is currently in the news, and tell the editors you want to discuss their future coverage of that topic. This is to get you in the door, which is difficult to do without a good rationale.

Ask them to write an editorial on that subject, espousing a particular position.

They will ask why they should take the position you are advocating, and you will have the chance to explain the issue to them at length. At the same time, you will be gradually educating them and eliminating myths that are harmful to us.

If you find the editors to be receptive and open-minded , arrange for the delegation to hold a follow-up meeting. The objective is to gradually reach a point where you are holding occasional but regular sessions with the editorial boards of your local newspapers.

If your representatives are extraordinarily well-informed, the editors might even begin to look upon them as informational resources. They will also be more likely to publish op-ed pieces these individuals may submit.

If you reach the point of regularized contact, you will be in a position to educate the editors on issues over a period of time. Eventually this will give you some influence over the way they perceive the larger picture and how to report to the public.

Adopted from CMCLA brochures
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