For as long as I’ve been reading the New York Times, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing an Op-Ed and sending it in. As the Op-Ed’s in the Times that I usually come across are written by people much more well-known than I am, I figured that my chances of getting in were pretty low. As it turns out, this just might not be the case.
A couple of weeks ago, I came across an “Op-Ed” from the Op-Ed and Sunday Review Editor, Trish Hall. In it, she details how to get an Op-Ed in the Times:
We get a flood of submissions, but there’s never too much good writing in the world. There is always room for more. So what makes the cut? That’s what people always ask me, so I’ll try to explain the process. Most pieces we publish are between 400 and 1200 words. They can be longer when they arrive, but not so long that they’re traumatizing. Submissions that are reacting to news of the world are of great value to us, especially if they arrive very quickly. Write in your own voice. If you’re funny, be funny. Don’t write the way you think important people write, or the way you think important pieces should sound. And it’s best to focus very specifically on something; if you write about the general problem of prisons in the United States, the odds are that it will seem too familiar. But if you are a prisoner in California and you have just gone on a hunger strike and you want to tell us about it – now, that we would like to read. We are normal humans (relatively speaking). We like to read conversational English that pulls us along. That means that if an article is written with lots of jargon, we probably won’t like it.
Some of what Trish has said should be comforting to folks who were worried about writing something that was high-brow. She specifically asks that you write in your own voice. So, let’s say that you get something together, submit it to the Times, and it’s accepted. Does your Op-Ed get published just like that? Not exactly:
First, you’ll get a contract giving us the right to publish it and laying out some of your responsibilities. The most important ones have to do with originality and truthfulness. You can’t plagiarize yourself, or someone else, and we won’t run something that has appeared in another publication, either print or digital. We request that you disclose anything that might be seen as a conflict of interest, financial or otherwise: Did you invest in a company that you praise in passing? Did you once work with a public official you mention in flattering or critical terms? Could you or an organization or company you represent benefit from the stance you take in an Op-Ed? We need to know. That doesn’t mean we’ll throw out your article on that basis — in most cases it just means disclosing the relationship to the reader. We also need all of the material that supports the facts in your story. That’s the biggest surprise to some people. Yes, we do fact check. Do we do it perfectly? Of course not. Everyone makes mistakes, and when we do we correct them. But the facts in a piece must be supported and validated. You can have any opinion you would like, but you can’t say that a certain battle began on a certain day if it did not.
It’s really great to see that even the Op-Ed’s are fact-checked. I’ve never worked at a newspaper, so I don’t know if this is standard practice. Either way, it does makes sense that if something’s going to be printed in your publication (The New York Times, no less) that you’d want to make sure it was truthful.
I hope after reading this post, the veil of mystique has been raised on how to get your opinion published in the New York Times. More than that, if you were holding back, I hope you’ll now consider writing an opinion and submitting it.