Asking For a Friend: Do Op-Eds Really Matter Anymore?

Let’s talk about the opinion editorial, or the “op-ed.”

It’s the publication of an individual opinion in response to the writings of reporters or editorial boards; the classic way to exert written thought leadership on a particular issue or news item; the tried-and-true tool used by public relations consultants and in-house communications experts alike to convey an author’s argument.

But do op-eds really position an author’s opinion anymore?

Back in the newspaper’s heyday – before the dotcom boom and short form, app-based communication – the op-ed was a crucial vehicle for providing a unique perspective about the news of the day.

Separate from a column, the op-ed was written by an actual reader whose life was affected by the issue at hand. It served as the voice of the people – or of a person, rather – and often countered the argument of the publication. Op-eds added color and candor to the gray world of objective journalism and edited reporting.

Oh the times, they have a-changed!

Opinions can now be found everywhere and at anytime, even in supposedly objective news stories, as the lines between objective reporting and subjective bias have become increasingly blurred. Everything is “breaking news,” and anyone with a mobile device can share their opinions immediately and without censor. A person no longer needs traditional news media as a platform to reach the public – all they need is the internet.

Thanks to the rise in blogging and direct-to-reader online writing platforms like Medium and LinkedIn, fact-checking and editing have fallen to the wayside as sensationalism and expediency have taken over. As a result, we live in an opinion-saturated news environment.

This is the era of “fake news” and perspective bubbles, where information is distributed rapid-fire through social media platforms to networks of like-minded folks, reinforcing previously held beliefs and limiting diversity of opinion.

So in determining how to deliver a message to the right audience, public affairs professionals must ask themselves whether or not op-eds are really still a viable way to cut through the clutter in today’s media environment.

Writing an op-ed for the sake of writing an op-ed doesn’t work as a stand-alone public relations strategy. And if a brilliant op-ed is posted and no one reads it, does it really matter?

In today’s media, distribution is key. Whether an op-ed is posted in The New York Times or Medium, optimizing social media distribution – and considering paid promotion of that content – can help get that op-ed to the right readers. Once the op-ed is shared with the correct audiences, it can go a long way towards influencing an issue’s public narrative.

On the whole, op-eds can still be a valuable tool in a comprehensive campaign, and a great way to further coverage for the author if he or she is looking to be featured in news stories on the subject or get on TV and radio.

And so, rather than fighting our new media landscape, writers should embrace it. These are the rules (old and new) that build great pieces:

  1. Op-eds must pertain to what’s happening in the news right now. Writing your opinion about something that happened a week ago does not matter in today’s news cycle.
  2. An op-ed needs to present a clear opinion. The author can’t just spend 800 words waxing poetic on how he or she feels about a certain issue. This is a piece being added to the ether of published written works – it should actually say something.
  3. It must be factually accurate. Even though we live in the era of “fake news,” good editors will fact-check claims or statistics cited throughout op-eds.
  4. Say more with less. Newspapers have staff dedicated to reading, vetting, and editing submitted op-eds for publication. Don’t waste editors’ time just sending them fluff pieces simply to get an author’s name out there.
  5. The bylined bio means something. The author’s background or profession must be relevant to the subject matter, and the author’s expertise on the issue should lend even more weight to their argument.
  6. Think about other creative platforms. If an editor doesn’t want to publish your piece, realize that something about it needs to change. Ask the editor why it doesn’t work, and ask yourself “is this really worthy of being public?” If you’re still angling to get the piece published by a certain date, post the piece on direct platforms like Medium or LinkedIn, optimizing with Twitter and Facebook.

There are already too many opinions out there in the media landscape – make sure yours adds value.