How to Write Op Eds for Newspapers
HubPages is a great place to practice and hone your writing skills. After all, according to Quantcast, Hubpages is one of the 50 most visited places on the internet, so it's a good coat tail to ride. But to really know how we're doing as writers, try testing the old fashioned offline market. For those of you who like to write opinion pieces, old-style print media is a natural progression. Though it may be dying in many ways, a published piece in a newspaper still carries a lot of prestige. And of course, most everything in print ends up online too, offering you more exposure as a writer, thus completing the loop back to your Inbox, website, or Hub profile.
Over the years, I have written my fair share of political and social commentary, an area of inquiry ideally suited for the commentary and/or forum pages of newspapers. But beyond knowing something about a particular subject, or having opinions (we all do), there are some time-tested techniques and etiquette that increase your chances of being published. Here’s a few helpful hints on the road to becoming a “pundit”:
1) Write what you know. It’s just easier, and it allows you to exude confidence. Start from what’s in your head, and expand from there. Do some research. Sometimes you may think you know how you feel about a certain subject until you start to actually delve into it. The process may alter your views, or you may end up pontificating on some other tangent altogether. Let your creative juices flow and you’ll be surprised what original thoughts lay dormant – that’s the fun part!
2) Now for the toil. Work on the opening sentence and paragraph in order to “hook” the reader. State your opinion early on and develop a sound argument by supplying the evidence. Check your facts and back them up. Check them again if you must, especially if it involves public figures. The last thing a newspaper wants is a libel suit on their hands. Established columnists have a proven track record of credibility, and even they make mistakes! Papers don’t like having to print retractions. It smacks of sloppiness and amateurism.
3) Make sure to employ critical thinking in your argument. Use quotes from experts, as well as statistics and studies by credible organizations and/or agencies – but don’t simply “appeal to authority” to make your case. What insights can you offer? Be original. Editors love it.
4) Be topical. What’s in the air? If you do pick a newsy item, be sure there hasn’t already been saturation coverage. Another way of approaching the market is to try to identify issues that are being ignored.
One technique I’ve employed is to anticipate important holidays, milestones, or anniversaries of historic events. In other words, what’s coming up? Is it time to reflect? Give yourself the lead time to do some research, and finish your piece with plenty of time for the editor to check it over. Or, play the part of the seer by anticipating societal trends based upon today’s social realities. Just remember that timing is everything.
5) Pay special attention to your ending. One method is to simply sum up the evidence in a succinct fashion, keeping in mind your original point of reference. Another way is to leave the reader to ponder some newly introduced element. Whichever way you decide to finish up, keep in mind that many readers skim to the end to “get to the point.” So have one!
6) Edit, edit, and edit again. As someone who offers editing services myself, I can't tell you how many blatant errors I spot almost daily in the mainstream media. Check for typos, and grammar because the publisher may miss it. Many of the old style copy editor positions at newspapers no longer exist. Read aloud and get an overall feel for what you’ve written. Is your argument persuasive? Do you stick to the point or do you wander? If you do wander, do you pull it altogether?
7) Use humor. Readers love to be entertained. If the topic seems too serious, sarcasm works well. Even those that disagree with you may chuckle and be impressed with your clever use of witticisms.
8) For practice, submit a letter to the newspaper’s editorial page. If they don’t publish it, there could be a reason other than time and space constraints. Are you ranting without evidence? Have there been umpteen other letters published recently on the same topic? If the letter is published, check to see if it was edited down, and learn from what was omitted, and what was kept.
9) Read other columnists. Study their style, their techniques. ‘Be the writer’ by putting yourself in their place when you read their work. Think of how they gathered their information.
10) Know the biases of the publication before submitting. If the paper has a distinctly liberal or a right-wing bias, don’t be surprised if your piece is rejected for having an opposite ideological slant. The media is not an unbiased entity; in fact, some would argue that freedom of the press is really only guaranteed to those that own one.
Remember, we are dealing with for profit mass media here. Aside from independent publications and websites, the media is largely made up of huge, profit-driven corporations who own most of what we read and see and think. They are selling an audience to advertisers.
Nonetheless, depending on the editorial slant, independent, radical or off- the-beaten-track perspectives certainly do appear, especially from guest columnists. If you do go against the grain and present unwelcome truths about government policies, economics, or the world in general, be sure to know your stuff. After all, you may well be challenging the sensibilities of not only the mainstream readers, but perhaps the editors as well. Or maybe you catch the zeitgeist of the times? You will never know until you give it a shot!
A final Note
Be persistent, learn from your mistakes, and work on your weaknesses. Test your opinion pieces political and social issues here at HubPages – the comments section of your hub can be a great teacher.
Who knows, if you have a real knack for writing a good column, you may even find yourself with a regular paid soapbox someday – offline, online, or both. Good luck!
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