How to Get Your Op-Ed Published

Bill Baker, RESULTS volunteer from Stamford, CT
February 24, 2014

Since joining RESULTS in the spring of 2013, RESULTS volunteers Bill Baker and his wife Lucinda Winslow of Stamford, CT have been responsible for getting eight op-eds and four letters to the editor published. On our February 2014 RESULTS Media Support Call, Bill shared his insights and advice for getting op-eds publshed (our February 2014 U.S. Poverty Action), based on his and Lucinda's amazing success. His notes from the call are below.

I assume that everyone knows how to write and to engage the reader; doing things like finding a “hook” for the article, based on the attitudes and interests of the target audience. For example, talking about each dollar of SNAP benefits generating $1.79 in economic activity, rather than about compassion and helping children, if you’re in an area of deficit hawks. Also mentioning local members of Congress. That sort of thing.

So now you’ve got your op-ed. What are strategies for getting it published?

  1. The basic approach is straightforward and emphasizes communication. You look at the contact us page or the staff page on your paper’s website for [email protected] or preferably for the name and email of the Managing Editor or the Editorial Page Editor. Send in the article, and then follow up on the phone the next day to make sure it was received and to solicit feedback. Repeat that step as necessary. Usually the first response is, “I haven’t seen it yet. Oh, there it is. I’ll look it over. Call me tomorrow.” Persistence pays here.
  2. While you are on the paper’s website, look in the FAQ’s for any unusual restrictions on articles. For example, one paper here in Connecticut has severe space limitations, and requires no more than 450-475 words, preferably 450. Don’t send 700 words. Also, read some letters to the editor (LTE) and editorials for content and biases. For example, in looking for a paper in one of our Congressional districts, I found one with almost nothing but articles about wasteful government spending. I decided not to send them my op-ed on SNAP.
  3. Before you send anything, research the papers in your target area. Pick papers with strong readership numbers. You can do that by asking around, picking larger towns and cities, or going on the websites and looking for something like “advertise with us.” That section will give some measure of reach. For example, my local paper The Stamford Advocate claims 15 million page views per month, and half a million on the day your article runs isn’t bad for a local paper.
  4. There are other ways to get more bang for your buck. Look for newspaper groups. For example, The Stamford Advocate is a Hearst paper, and the editors of the four Hearst papers in Southwestern CT share material. This means my op-ed sent to the Advocate actually appeared in four cities. One sent in by a Global member of our Chapter appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle!
  5. Try to establish relationships with editors who are simpatico. We here in CT are a 5-person Chapter with three people focused on Global poverty and two on Domestic poverty, and we work as a group, covering both areas in our lobbying meetings and supporting each other with ideas and hands-on help. So after my first op-ed in the Advocate, I contacted the editor and said we felt we could be a resource for him and him for us and proposed a meeting. The whole group went with coffee and pastries. We addressed both Global and Domestic poverty issues, listened about the paper’s past efforts, and agreed to work together. Our expected half hour meeting turned into two hours, and communication has continued, and more LTEs and op-eds from us and editorials from him have followed.
  6. This brings up using the entire RESULTS chapter for ideas, contacts, input, and credibility through depth. Our chapter leader knew an op-ed writer and blogger for the Greenwich Times, a sister paper to the Stamford Advocate, and arranged a meeting for three of us with her. We talked about various topics and ended up being mentioned, along with RESULTS, in an article about SNAP. Contact has continued with more articles and blogs. And we have been introduced to new data sources. These meetings and relationships leverage your work to something bigger than it was at first.