Writing Op-Eds to affect Public Policy. Professor Felicity Vabulas

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1 Writing Op-Eds to affect Public Policy Professor Felicity Vabulas

2 Affecting public policy through writing We entered this field because we felt passionate about changing something Important for each of us to remember how to affect public policy Writing for a larger audience is one way to do this Blog pieces Op-Eds Listicals Most of the program focuses on longer research papers Useful for teaching analytical skills But you can also identify, analyze, and solve a public policy issue in a way that can be easily communicated through shorter writing

3 Why Op-Eds Matter in the Playground of Ideas Read the following: Share your thoughts Do you agree that the proliferation of outlets provides you with new opportunities? Knowing that there is a plethora of outlets and that people often read work that supports their current perspectives, how should you strategize an Op-Ed?

4 Op-Eds are a strategy even employed by HOGs Vladamir Putin wrote an Op-Ed in September 2013 Argued against U.S. military intervention in Syria Published before a meeting between secretary of state John Kerry and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov Piece was pitched by an American public relations firm (Ketchum) Well written, needed little editing, published almost immediately Only previous op-ed in the New York Times in 1999: Putin justified bloody military action that eventually re-established Russian control of Chechnya

5 Example highlights important features Importance of: Writer s credentials Timing hook to current events Good writing Strong argument (even when readers don t agree) Good pitch We ll return to this example at the end

6 Lets talk details.then return to Putin s Op-Ed What is an Op-Ed? Short opinion piece Opposite the editorial ; Not opinion editorial Meant to provide a contrast to the editorial page That theme has now disappeared a bit Online, now appear

7 Why should you consider writing an Op-Ed? You are often the expert in a particular area You may have limited abilities to communicate with your audience Or your audience may be wider than those in your daily interactions May seem old fashioned But it s still a really powerful way to share opinions and shape policy Despite the fact that there are many other avenues for sharing opinions Discussion: What other kinds of communication tools do you have? What (dis) advantages might Op-Eds have over these other tools?

8 How should you write an Op-Ed? Short: words (most prefer 700 words); 6-7 paragraphs Always have the central argument up front vs. building to a grand conclusion Set the stage: give some background (hook to the news) but then get to the argument Have at least 3 supporting points (can even number them) Then acknowledge another point or the conventional wisdom Conclude in a snappy way; refer back to the outset

9 Tips on writing a good Op-Ed Keep jargon, insider speak, and acronyms to a minimum Use plain language Assume a high level knowledge but not a deep understanding of your specific area Well informed but will still have questions Respect your reader No footnotes. You can add links online. Research should only be there to support your central argument You ll be blacklisted if you publish your piece in more than one place Be transparent with the editor if you ve sent it to more than one place Reveal any conflicts of interest The most common problem with OpEds is not having an opinion Especially difficult from those of us who are used to seeing multiple points of view

10 More tips! Own your expertise Know what you are an expert in and why - but don t limit yourself Consider the metaphors that your experience and knowledge suggest Stay current Follow the news both general and specific to your areas of specialty The perfect is the enemy of the good In other words: write fast. You may have only a few hours to get your piece in before the moment is gone. But also Cultivate a flexible mind Remember that a good idea may have more than one news hook Keep an eye out for surprising connections and new hooks the opportunity may come again

11 Next steps Say you have written a nice clean piece: Share it with a few colleagues to get feedback/ initial edits You will be rejected if the piece is not polished and ready to go Your university (or workplace) may have a communications office They often have contacts at newspapers/ ideas on where to send your piece Every outlet has their own process, so go online Choosing your outlet: Have they been publishing on your topic? What are their readers interested in? Have they published on your topic very recently (if so, won t want your piece)

12 The Pitch: a note that accompanies the piece Submit your piece to the generic and get it into the tracking system. You ll get an automatic response. Dear Editor, Attached please find an OpEd that argues X. Provide a little information about yourself Thank them for their consideration 4-5 sentences long They will rarely consider just an Op-Ed idea (unless you are famous). So write the piece first

13 Is there a right moment to write an Op-Ed? Best timing is when your argument is politically relevant I.e. something is happening in the world to make readers interested Use the news event as a hook in the lead BUT: Most papers will ask for a week to ten days to review. So you need to make sure your piece has a bit of shelf life Evergreen pieces can be really valuable Not hinged to news on the front page. Summers, weekends, holidays are good: need to fill pages when news is slow

14 More advice, particularly for students Try to co-author with someone more famous That said, OpEd editors are on the lookout for minority, female, etc. voices. If your piece is really fresh and well written, you can move the needle Good starting point publications? International outlets, university papers Great resource: OpEdproject.org

15 Think, pair, share activity Read Putin s Sept Op-Ed Based on the tips we ve just discussed: What do you think he (and his ghostwriters) did well? What do you think needs improvement? Other thoughts?

16

17 Other alternatives to Op-Eds Political Insight pieces Example: Wall Street Journal s Washington Wire Listicals Example: Washington Post s Five Myths https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths/ Guest Blogs Example: Washington Post s Monkey Cage - https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/ Example: Washington Post s Wonk Blog - Read and discuss examples from each

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