Make Your Op-Ed Stand Out

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Photo courtesy of Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Op-eds are my favorite part of the newspaper. They provide a unique perspective by giving non-journalist members of the community a platform to weigh in on the news. Op-ed writers never fail to surprise me with the interesting insights they draw from their professional expertise and personal experiences. Op-eds also tend to have a far more varied writing style than the rest of the paper, which provides a nice break from the often-dry news.

Not only do I enjoy reading op-eds, but I enjoy writing them as well. Even in the age of the internet, newspaper op-eds remain one of the most effective ways of getting your ideas in front of a massive audience. Midsize-city newspapers can have circulation numbers in the tens of thousands, and the world’s largest newspapers reach millions. If you want your opinion heard, don’t overlook the power of a well-timed op-ed.

In order to reach a newspaper’s audience though, you first have to get past the editor. Most newspapers receive more op-eds than they have space to print, so editors can afford to be selective when reviewing submissions. In order to have your op-ed chosen, you have to make it stand out from the pack.

Solid writing and a topical subject are both absolute musts, but they’re not enough to ensure your article’s selection. In addition, you need to have a unique angle that sets your writing apart from what has already been written on the topic.

Newspaper editors publish op-eds because they want to add something to the discussion which an objective news article wouldn’t accomplish. When you write an op-ed, start by reading the newspaper’s prior coverage of the topic, and then ask yourself what you can add to it. If your op-ed is simply repeating facts which have already been published elsewhere, then it is very unlikely to get picked up, no matter how strong the writing is. Instead, You can maximize your chance of getting published by approaching the news with a new insight that none of the previous coverage considered.

If you’re interested in a news topic but struggling to find a unique angle, consider the following sources:

The most common type of op-ed is one in which the writer draws on their work background to make sense of a particular aspect of the news. When I write op-eds, I use my knowledge as a lawyer to examine the legal aspects of a news story in greater detail. Similarly, doctors can comment on the health implications of a story, and professors can expand on a story based on their research.

This strategy isn’t limited to those who work in a traditional “professional” field. Anyone can draw on their work experience to offer a unique insight. For example, a fast-food worker can offer a valuable perspective on how a new tax affects low-income workers, or a retail employee could have a fresh take on local labor laws. Many newspaper editors will actually find it refreshing to receive submissions from workers in these fields because they are underrepresented on the op-ed page.

Perhaps counterintuitively, drawing on your professional experience actually works best when the news topic you’re writing about isn’t directly related to your career. This is because it provides a greater opportunity for you to write something about the topic that nobody has before. For example, when a new law is passed, I can count on a dozen other lawyers in my area to write something about it. In contrast, if a new park is opened, there’s unlikely to be many lawyers looking into interesting legal implications. These topics that are outside my field actually can end up creating the best chance to say something new.

Your hobbies are another good place to turn for inspiration when writing an op-ed. Many people are as dedicated to their hobbies as they are to their work, which means they’ve developed a similar level of expertise. If you’ve been active in a hobby for years, you’re likely to have unique knowledge that the general public doesn’t, and this can provide you with an interesting angle for certain news stories.

As an example, a dedicated cyclist might notice problems with a new roadway that wouldn’t be apparent to the average driver. When writing an op-ed, they could demonstrate their expertise as a cyclist by explaining how long they’ve been cycling, the role it plays in their life, and their involvement with the cycling community. When done right, an op-ed based on your hobby can be just as convincing as an op-ed based on your career.

Sometimes the best op-eds don’t rely on professional expertise or hobbies, and instead come from the author writing about how the news intersects with their own personal identity. I’m using the phrase “personal identity” broadly here, to include religion, race, sexual orientation, and any other traits that you feel are integral to the way you see yourself.

News stories don’t affect all groups of people equally, and sometimes an aspect of a story that jumps out to one cultural group could be completely missed by another. Op-eds are a great chance for you to explain to the public at large what issues are affecting your smaller community. You can write with the objective of rallying support, or simply to enhance the public’s understanding of your community.

Work, hobbies, and identity are great places to start when thinking about an angle for your op-ed, but they aren’t a comprehensive list. Any experience or interest can provide a strong anchor for your writing as long as you can find a way to connect it to the news you’re covering. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to provide your readers with a unique insight that could only come from you.

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

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