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Wed, 9 Oct 2002 -- Media Matters No. 16:
What's an "op-ed" article -- and why should you want one?

All newspapers of any size have an editorial page. The editorial page is usually located on the last inside, left-hand page of the front section -- not always, but that's the traditional spot for it. The page facing that page -- opposite the editorial page -- is called the "op-ed" page (for "opposite the editorials") page. That's where you'll find "op-ed articles" -- articles from respected spokespersons on various topics.

Op-ed articles are opinion articles. That's what they're supposed to be. They're not news releases; they're not news stories. They're an opportunity to express an opinion -- your organization's opinion, perhaps -- on a topic currently in the news about which you and your organization can justifiably be called experts -- employment and disability, the Olmstead decision, IDEA, Section 508 and the digital divide.

Op-ed articles are not written by a newspaper's reporters. They are written by outsiders, not part of the paper's staff. You have as much an opportunity as the next person to get an op-ed article in your local newspaper -- or even in one of the national newspapers such as the New York Times or The Washington Post -- if you follow guidelines for writing and submitting one.

But today's media matters deals with things you need to know *before* you decide to write an op-ed article.

You need to know what you're writing -- and what you aren't writing.

You aren't writing an "editorial." Many people refer to op-ed articles -- opinion articles -- as "editorials." They're not. An "editorial" is written specifically by the newspaper's own staff of editorial writers. They are not reporters; they're in the editorial department, not the news department. Their job is to write short opinions -- called "editorials" -- to run on the editorial page which will reflect the newspaper's own response to or position on issues in the news.

The other thing found on both editorial pages and op-ed pages are "columns." A "column" is the work of a columnist, a writer whose column appears regularly in the same spot, usually under the same heading. Most editorial columnists today are national and are syndicated to local newspapers. Mary McGrory, Anthony Lewis, Cal Thomas, Ellen Goodman, James Kilpatrick, George Will: all are syndicated columnists.

"Letters to the editor" also appear on these pages. "Letters" are shorter than op-ed articles and are from members of the public, usually in response to articles that have appeared in the paper. Any member of the public can write a letter to the editor and have a good chance of getting their letter published; but a letter is not an op-ed article. To have an op-ed article accepted, you must be considered somewhat of an authority on your topic. Op-ed articles, unlike letters, follow a specific format which we'll discuss in upcoming Media Matters.

Op-ed articles "carry the third-party imprimatur of the publication," says public relations guru Jack O'Dwyer. "Accordingly, op-ed contributors profit from the association with a respected, impartial, objective editorial voice. Such articles can propel the careers of college professors and policy wonks," he says -- and can give you and your research added public credibility as well.

In our next Media Matters: How to write an op-ed.

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