First, define your page's mission.
Once the syndicated columns are selected, the challenge is how best to use the remaining space to complete the mix of topics and writing styles that energizes the page and its readers.
How does an editor awash in submissions--and often juggling other duties--decide which of the ballooning number of articles mailed, faxed, e-mailed, hand-delivered, or on the wire makes the cut?
What runs and what doesn't?
First, it helps to define the purpose of the page. Is it primarily a community forum for local readers and writers to discuss local issues or perhaps share their views on broader topics? Should it reflect the paper's regional, state, or national role or flavor? Is it limited to hard news and government issues or are softer, lifestyle subjects included? Does it offer the best of what's available, no matter the topic or the source?
Having a page mission offers one basis for making decisions on what to run. It's the first test of which articles get further consideration and which don't. Whatever the definition, though, it should be loose enough to allow for those occasional, must-read exceptions.
Next, ask this question: Does the writer bring specific knowledge, a fresh perspective, or a seldom-heard-from voice to a critical topic?
This is a practical standard that editors--especially those reluctant to automatically reject whole categories of submissions in advance--can use to respond to queries and assess articles from freelance writers, advocacy and industry groups, public relations agencies, and others. The weight given to any one of those criteria may vary with the subject or circumstances, such as the need to round out the range of views on a certain issue or an opportunity to offer a perspective different from the newspapers editorial position. But articles that don't meet any of the criteria--for example, those that merely adapt a group's well-known stand on an issue to a different set of circumstances--won't be considered.
When the page emphasizes local content, this standard is a particularly useful way to distinguish between letters that, with appropriate editing, should remain just that and more fully developed commentary. A letter shouldn't become an op-ed contender simply because it's too long for the letters column. This knowledge/perspective/voice guideline also is helpful when considering whether to run a second, or third, or fourth article on a certain issue.
Finally, establish working criteria and, where appropriate, share them with writers, most easily in a policy box that appears on the page.
Here are suggestions of what to consider:
* Are there specific kinds of articles you won't run: promotional pieces, those that proselytize for religious or secular purposes, endorsements of political candidates, interviews, or poetry?
* Will you accept previously published material?
* Will you consider articles that are simultaneously submitted elsewhere?
* What is the word limit?
* How much time can you spend on revising pieces or working with writers? How will that affect what you decide to use?
* If an article is proposed or submitted by a public relations firm or other third party, will you have direct access to the writer?
Joanne Crupt is editor of the opinion pages at the Times Union in Albany, New York. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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|Title Annotation:||designing effective op-ed standards|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2003|
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