Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Do's and Don'ts for Times Op-Ed Writers

For those of you who weren't able to join us for our sold out "Spotlight on Seattle Times" program last week, I thought I'd provide some Do's and Don'ts for Seattle Times Op-Ed Writers, provided by Jim Vesely, editorial page editor at The Seattle Times.

Special thanks to Jim and Managing Editor David Boardman for their insight (and humor). Additional thanks to Corey Digiacinto for helping us arrange this great event!


1. DO have an opinion and state it forcefully. Many opinion pieces submitted are explanations of an issue rather than an argument about an issue.

2. DO present the case from the top down. It’s usually better to begin with the premise rather than assembling the facts and presenting a conclusion at the end.

3. DO read The Seattle Times before submitting an article. You should know some of the basics: space available, the general tone and format of op-eds. If The Times ran a piece on the same subject last week, have a good reason an editor should revisit the topic.

4. DO be timely. Editorial pages prefer essays about the events of the current season.

5. DO be patient. Typically, an author will say…”I’ve worked on this piece for the past month. Can you get it in the paper tomorrow?” It’s better to call or email us before you assume we will use a piece.

6. DO be willing to submit charts, grafs or photos. That often helps explain the piece and enhances the visual presentation.

7. DO write tight. Ideally, an op-ed is between 700-800 words, although up to 1,000 words is possible for the right topic. A tightly-written essay of 750 words often has greater impact because it is more often read.

8. DON’T use footnotes or cite references. Nobody cares about them. Attribution to other authors can be done in the body of the text.

9. DON’T demand review of editing or headlines. “Titles” on articles submitted rarely pass muster with our copy desk. Most editors are willing to discuss editing changes for brevity or clarity but are seldom patient with nitpicks.

10. DON’T submit the same article to competing newspapers at the same time. Editors hate to see the same piece printed in a nearby newspaper. As a general rule, ride one horse at a time.

11. DON’T use specialized jargon, especially in articles about education, health, transportation, the environment, war, peace or family vacations. Keep the language simple, but don’t ever talk down to the reader.