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!


DOs & DON’TS FOR TIMES OP-Ed WRITERS

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.

3 comments:

Jack O'Dwyer said...

Hello President of the Puget Sound Chapter and Members:
Below are some recommendations for the Assembly that are based on my attendance at about 35 Assemblies and on discussions with senior PR Society members. The recommendations are being presented to COO Bill Murray by senior members. We believe Philadelphia (birthplace of our democracy) is the apt place for delegates to create their own “Declaration of Independence” that would remove dominance by the national Society and replace governance practices from the 1950s with web and e-mail era practices.
1. Bar any voting in the Assembly this year by the 46 leaders (17 national board members, 19 section chairs and 10 district chairs) since they are the executive branch of the Society and should not be members of the legislative branch which puts them in the position of voting on their own proposals. This suggestion was first made by the Houston chapter in the 1980s.
2. Vote to remain in continuous session electronically and
otherwise until the next Assembly.
3. Abolish the three-year rule for Assembly delegates and urge chapters to send experienced, independent members who have no agendas except the interests of rank-and-file members (not interested in new business leads, titles, etc.). National should not be telling the chapters who they can send as representatives.
4. Eliminate any APR requirement throughout the bylaws (as urged by the 1999 Strategic Planning Committee).
5. Eliminate the rule that board members have to have headed chapters, districts or national committees or have voted in the Assembly. These rules have choked off the supply of candidates for decades and are the reason Society leaders want to replace the ten districts with five “regions.” Only nine people showed up this year for seven national board and officer positions.
6. Pass a bylaw banning directors from returning to the board as officers or in any role. For the first 50 years of its existence, no director or officer ever returned to the board. Because of the shortage of candidates due to the APR and other rules, two former board members ran for officer positions this year.
7. Call on Society leaders to admit that staff costs on the annual conference are close to $2M and the reported staff costs of $100K-$189K have been grossly understated. The only staff time costs being counted are those of 35 staffers at the conference in the 7-10 days they spend at the conference. About half the staff spends half the year preparing for the conference, say former Society presidents and treasurers, and that cost should be reflected in the audit. The main concern of the Assembly should be making sure members get the best value for their money. Tactics & Strategist could be sent via PDF to members, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
8. Ask Society leaders to show what the balance sheet looks like with $2M in dues deferred. There’s no law against showing financials several ways. All the major professional associations—doctors, lawyers and CPAs—defer about half of a year’s dues.
9. Ask that senior members join h.q. when job openings occur. The appointment in September of non-member Joseph DeRupo as associate director of PR after a six-month search is an act of disloyalty to members and especially to APR members. We’re not asking that he be fired but that a half dozen seasoned Society members join him. At least 17 staff members have left since 2005. Their names were in the 2005 Blue Book but are not now listed on the Society website.
10. Ask that all leader speeches and a complete financial report be given to the delegates three weeks before the Assembly. Ban Assembly leader speeches. The current Assembly binder has set a new record for lack of materials. It does contain any financial information.
11. Ask that the printed members’ directory again be published (the Society had $4.3M in cash as of June 30 and could well afford to do this). Telephone books (which the directory was) have not gone out of style. It’s far easier to look up a member in a printed directory (which is 90% accurate even after a year). There’s no guarantee members will instantly update records in the online directory.
12. Allow “at-large student membership (any student could join as a student member of PRS), which would help them in job-seeking and bring in revenues to PRS. Opposing this are some PR educators who say there already are not enough PR jobs for PR graduates. But with the Princeton Review recommending a general education for PR jobs, there will be fewer such majors. The more popular major now is “communications” which the Princeton Review points out can lead to either a PR, marketing or journalism career.
The PR Student Society has had only minimal impact on America’s college students. PRSS has only 9,600 members out of an undergraduate population of 19 million (as measured by the U.S. Dept. of Education). Only 286 of the 4,000 colleges have a PRSS chapter.
13. Reconsider the excellent proposal by the Central Michigan chapter last year that would have made the Assembly the “principal policy-making body” of PRS (just like the Houses of Delegates of the ABA and AMA are for those organizations).
14. Allow local-chapter-only membership which is the practice in many leading associations including the American Society of Assn. Executives, American Marketing Assn., American Bar Assn. and the American Institute of CPAs. The $225 national dues block many PR people from joining local chapters.
Editorial by Jack O'Dwyer, Editor, O’Dwyer’s website, newsletter and magazine

PR SOCIETY CREATES “STAR CHAMBER.”
PR Society leadership, the most secretive and publicly unavailable in the history of the Society (CEO Rhoda Weiss has yet to appear before the membership of a single chapter and COO Bill Murray has appeared before only one), on Sept. 6 created a secret e-mail group open only to the 300 or so 2007 Assembly delegates.
The delegates are able to reach the entire list with a single e-mail via creation of an “address book.”
There was no announcement of this on the Society website, only a private e-mail to the delegates.
This development flies in the face of the basic principles of democracy, openness and fairness.
Secretive deliberative and legislative bodies have been excoriated as “Star Chambers” even since the 16th and 17th centuries when the original Star Chamber under the Stuarts (King Charles I) was used to punish anyone who breathed a word against the crown.
The Chamber, whose proceedings were secret, could order torture (such as cutting off ears), ruinous fines, imprisonment and whipping although it could not impose the death penalty. There was no right of appeal and punishment was swift.
King James I and his son, Charles used the court to “suppress opposition to royal policies,” says the Britain Express historical website.
“Star Chamber” came to symbolize “arbitrary, secretive proceedings in opposition to personal rights and liberty,” says Britain Express.
We hope the Assembly delegates will demand that all members be able to see what the delegates are saying in this e-mail group and give rank-and-file members the ability to e-mail to the entire group with one e-mail.
The Assembly is meeting Oct. 20 in Philadelphia, the birthplace of our democracy. It is the apt time and place for the Assembly to pass its own “Declaration of Independence.”

Jack O'Dwyer said...

Here is a report on the Assembly delegates' teleconference Tuesday, Oct. 9:

PRS Lawyer Beth Caseman
Is Assembly Parliamentarian
CEO Rhoda Weiss moves up lunch from 12:30 p.m. to noon to insure delegates spend 1.5 hours on Strategic Plan. “I will make it happen,” she said.
Wed., Oct. 10; winter & best are sample codes to www.odwyerpr.com

LAWYER IS PRS PARLIAMENTARIAN
Beth Caseman, an associate in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Venable, will serve both as legal counsel and parliamentarian for the PR Society board when it presides over the Assembly Oct. 20 in Philadelphia.
The announcement was made by PRS chair and CEO Rhoda Weiss during a delegate teleconference yesterday.
“We are thrilled to have her as part of our team,” Weiss told the teleconference. About 30 of the potential total of 323 delegates identified themselves on the call.
Weiss also said that lunch has been moved up to noon from 12:30 to insure 1.5 hours of discussion on the new Strategic Plan.
Delegates will not be allowed to sit where they want to at lunch but will be given seats that separate them from others in their delegations or districts. They will be given three subjects from the SP and will not be allowed to discuss any other subject. “Monitors” will go from table to table to make sure the delegates are staying on the topic.
“You won’t sit with the people you always sit with,” chair-elect Jeff Julin told the teleconference. Color codes and name plates are to be used.
Crockett Attended Board Sessions
Ray Crockett, director of communications, Coca-Cola North America, Atlanta, was appointed by Weiss to the national board this year as “senior counselor” and has attended three meetings thus far, it was learned. PRS did not announce this development.
Crockett ran for the board starting in 2008 as S.E. director but the nominating committee picked Phil Tate of Luquire George Andrews, marketing/ad/PR firm.
Lynn Sallot, Ph.D., PR professor at the University of Georgia, is this year’s PRS selection as “Outstanding Educator.”
Georgia, the second largest chapter with 800+ members, has nine Assembly delegates.
No information was available on the status of Dr. Mark Schilansky, a podiatrist who had served for several years as the parliamentarian for PRS. He had counseled the Society to adopt a new bylaw that gave the executive committee the power to act in place of the full board and also served in an advisory capacity on the nominating committee.
Schilansky Was Hospitalized
Schilansky was hospitalized for an operation shortly before the Assembly last year. He has fully recovered, an assistant said. An associate, Dr. Barry Glazer of Indianapolis, took his place. Weiss, COO Bill Murray and PR staffer Joe DeRupo did not respond to an e-mail asking the status of Schilansky.
Lawyer Jonathan Pompan of Venable was also on the dais at the 2006 Assembly.
Jeff Tenenbaum of Venable said that he, Caseman and other lawyers at the firm often serve as parliamentarians at meetings of associations because of their extensive work with associations and their annual meetings.
Neither Tenenbaum or Caseman are members of the National Assn. of Parliamentarians or the American Institute of Parliamentarians.
Venable was retained by PRS in 2005 when Judith Phair was president. Moses & Singer also continued as legal counsel but was dropped after Arthur Abelman died Oct. 17, 2006.
Legal fees were $66,761 in 2006 vs. $20,498 in 2003. The board has proposed a re-write of the entire bylaws which will entail considerable legal work.
Veteran PRS members could not remember an instance of a local parliamentarian not being hired for the Assembly.
Some parliamentarians feel that in cases where there is controversy or divided opinions in an organization, the delegates to a conference should have their own parliamentarian and not rely on the parliamentarian of elected leaders.
Busywork to Avoid Other Topics?
Some delegates, noticing the morning full of leader speeches, an hour-and-a-half scheduled for the Strategic Plan, and the last-minute proposal to re-write the entire bylaws, wonder if the delegates are being kept occupied so they won’t start discussing other sensitive topics such as resuming publishing the printed members’ directory; true staff costs of the annual conference; up to 10 staff posts being kept vacant at h.q. to improve profits; low turnout for the APR program (only 130 new APRs yearly); local-only chapter memberships; at-large student memberships; lack of senior members at h.q. and hiring of a PR staffer who was not a member of PRS; failure of Weiss to visit any of the five biggest chapters and visit only two of the top 15; the secret e-group for delegates that is barred to members; lack of a library at h.q.; lack of an on-staff registered and fully credentialed CPA; possibility of sending Tactics and Strategist via PDFs on the web, thus saving hundreds of thousands (postage and printing are around $400,000, etc.
Focus Is on “Strategic Plan”
A major focus of the Assembly will be on revising the “Strategic Plan” of the Society.
The current plan, which expires at the end of 2007, is a six-page document that describes PRS as a “member-driven organization” that is “the leader and pre-eminent advocate for advancing the PR profession and the PR professional for the benefit of members and society.”
The SP has PRS pledging adherence to “the highest standards of ethics and excellence.”
One goal is to make PRS “the profession’s leading voice on important industry, societal and global issues.”
One “tactic” is to “create a platform of pre-developed and pre-approved messages/position statements that can be quickly and easily disseminated when related news breaks.”
Some members feel it will be difficult for the delegates to come up with new expressions of devotion to leadership and ethics.
Morning of Speeches, then “Buzz Groups”
The current agenda calls for leader presentations for most of the morning including a description of the Strategic Plan by Julin and input desired from the delegates for the new SP.
Delegates, who will have been split from their delegations or districts “so you won’t sit with the people you always sit with,” will stay at their places following lunch, Julin said.
Each table will be given a set of three topics related to the SP to discuss. An hour and a half has been set aside for these discussions. Only the SP is to be discussed, said Julin. Conclusions of each table will be collected and a summary will be prepared, he said. Members of the SP will circulate among the tables to answer questions and make sure the delegates concentrate on the SP.
An “action-packed lunch” featuring awards is also promised.
Award-giving and speeches dominated the 2003 Assembly lunch in New Orleans, making conversation at the tables difficult.
Agenda Could Be Scotched
Some delegates noted that the agenda may not be adopted and that delegates may take control of their own meeting, which happened last year and in some previous years.
The most contentious issue this year is compressing the ten districts into five “regions” because of the lack of candidates from some districts. Blake Lewis, Southwest district chair, proposed a special leadership committee to nurture future national leaders. He noted the difficult time his district had in finding a suitable candidate.
Marlene Neill, communications specialist for the city of Waco, Texas, and past president of the Central Texas chapter, had submitted her application to the nominating committee for district director but she was rejected.
A 12-year PR veteran, she was a journalism graduate of the University of Kansas and became a TV journalist. She is currently working on an MA at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Haynes Became Petition Candidate
Jim Haynes of Rockwall, Texas, a 1959 journalism graduate of the University of Texas who has had a broad range of PR positions, became a petition candidate for S.W. director.
Lewis said the Society must work harder to encourage members to move from local to national leadership.
“We had to scramble to get a candidate willing to run from the floor,” he told the teleconference. “No organization should have to go through that,” he added.
Cheryl Procter-Rogers, 2006 president, said leadership development should be made part of the SP.
It’s estimated that at least 95% of members are ineligible for national office because they are not APR (80% of members are non-APR) or have not served as head of a chapter, district, section or national committee or voted at least once in an Assembly. Merely attending an Assembly does not satisfy this rule.
Caseman Handles Nonprofits
Caseman, who practices exclusively on nonprofit organizations, is the former assistant general counsel of Volunteers of America, one of the nation’s 20 largest charities. She is a cum laude graduate of the Indiana University School of Law.

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