Reexamining What Yields an Op-ed Placement

Even casual observers of the news have no doubt noticed that the media climate has changed significantly in the past eight months. The news cycle today sometimes spins fast enough to give the audience whiplash.

Today’s lead story, which is getting wall-to-wall coverage, may disappear as quickly as it showed up. Second day coverage of in-depth analysis almost seems like an antiquated idea as newer breaking news shifts the collective focus away from what might have dominated the pressing conversations for a week or more in a different era.

In this environment, it’s time to rethink some of the tried and true tactics that have yielded consistent placements of op-ed pieces for years.

Historically, there were plenty of different ways an op-ed piece could gain traction. Editors typically looked for several news values that ultimately would attract and retain their prospective readers but they could be a combination of any of the tried and true newsworthy elements that were ingrained in all of us in every Journalism 101 course: proximity, impact, novelty, conflict, prominence and human interest.

While editors still value these aspects, a piece has almost no leg to stand on if it can’t also check off timeliness. Editors now must ask, “Is this something people are talking about right now? If not, why should they? Why will they click on this story instead of one they’ve already heard about and is more pressing?”

Conventional wisdom would say that “evergreen” pieces would make for easy fodder. An editor can just plug them into the rotation at any time, right? But the reality today is these are the easiest pieces to either turn down, or put on the backburner. Once they’re on simmer, they can sit there for a very long time.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had two op-eds that finally found homes more than a year after the author worked to put together the initial draft. In one instance, the editor repeatedly assured me she was still interested in the piece, but simply lacked the space for it. After months of subtle nudges, it finally published after several rounds of edits and updated versions.

The second piece ultimately needed a revised timely hook. The initial one, which prompted the topic in the first place after the death of Prince, had grown stale before the author could finish the draft. With the release of Chuck Berry’s album in June, we updated the piece with a new peg that was timely again.s

Both instances illustrated just how critical timeliness has become in the op-ed world. It’s not impossible to place a time-flexible piece, but prepare to have them linger on your to-do list if news cycles continue to flow at breakneck speeds.