Click on the following for some "pearls of wisdom" from our various events:
- You can enter the media by:
- having your research hit the big time (the industry follows where the NYT goes); or
- having an issue come up to which your expertise can contribute.
- Think about the public you are seeking to reach through the new story: what readership do you want to reach, and what would you like them to do as a consequence of receiving your message.
- Ask journalists in advance about their “angle on the story: what are they hoping to write. This way you can think about how best to convey your expertise and communicate your message.
- Think of 2 or 3 key messages that you want to convey, and practice how to communicate them in simple terms.
- Write notes to yourself to prepare for the interview, so you clarify your thinking, and can make best use of the time during the interview.
- Once you have your core message, you can keep repeating it over and over, for different media (paper, radio, television) so that you don’t need to keep doing the work over and over.
- Ask to see a draft copy before the final version of the article—to fact-check and make sure you were accurately and appropriately (many journalists will not agree, but it’s worth requesting).
- When asking to review the article, be sensitive to the journalist’s need for quick turn-around: promise to give feedback within 24 if there is an urgent deadline so they are more likely to agree.
- Also promise to only correct the most egregious mistakes.
- Think about what media you prefer to use: some prefer working with radio because it gives more opportunities to restate your point or correct yourself (or the interviewer).
- Be sensitive to the time line that journalists are working with: be ready when they need you.
- Don’t say no more than once if you want them to use you as a resource; have a referral ready if you do say know of another expert whom you trust.
- Be aware of the limitations of your data and overstepping what your data allow you say, but…
- It’s also okay to speculate: you can share a hunch, especially if you have a relationship with a journalist, who may go out and do his or her own research on the topic.
- As one media specialist once said to have a story, you need a fact, a quote, and a comparison.
Useful Web Links
- Think about your areas of expertise: in what areas are you an authority?
- Recognize that most legislators start their policy work in town governments; one way to form relationships and build your network is to connect with legislators at the local level.
- Prepare press releases for your work (see crafting effective media messages panel).
- Check on the standing committees in your state legislature; see if any of your areas of expertise match these committees’ current interests.
- Note that the bills that are assigned to each committee are listed on the state legislature’s website: check to see whether you have policy-research match.
Make one main point.
- Write in a jargon-free manner, and use teaching skills for non-academic audiences.
- Check on the space limit (typically 600-800 words).
- Be willing to work and rework your piece to get it under the word cut-off.
- It is difficult to place a piece in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, but it is not as difficult in the major regional newspapers, especially with research expertise.
- Submit a cover letter that explains to the editors why your op-ed is worth printing.
- Explain how you contribute to an existing debate.
- One structure that you might follow is the following:
Provide three examples.
Return to main point.
Additional Tips for Writing and Placing Op-Eds
by Bill McKibben, scholar-in-residence, Environmental Studies Program, Middlebury College
Useful Web Links
- Keep it current: Be sure your topic is relevant to current news.
- Be straightforward: There’s no room for subtlety in an op-ed piece.
- Keep it short: 600-750 is the word limit; also, use short sentences and short paragraphs, with each one of your paragraphs offering evidence to support your point.
- Make your point: Preferably in the first paragraph.
- Provide answers: Consider the questions readers are likely to have, and answer them.
- Offer anecdotes: Personal stories can help make your point.
- Present Solutions: Wrap up by recommending fixes for problems you identify.
- Get it done while the news is fresh: Give yourself one day only to complete your piece.
- You know best: Use your own area of expertise to hook into the current news topic.
- Different is good: Humorous asides, unexpected perspectives, quirky approaches are welcome.