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Weeding the fields of others' dreams.

Had I known how many op-ed submissions are automatically trashed, I might not have worked so much overtime at my old job. My employers at a nonprofit, issue-advocacy organization clearly wasted their money having me chase down news pegs to use as launching pads for communicating a message to the masses.

Today, I watch op-ed submissions come in and can't help but feel empathy for the armies of laboring writers who produced them. That empathy cannot drive decisions about what is published in the limited amount of space we have to showcase the best of today's opinions, however. Quality content must rule those decisions.

Finding quality in the mailbag can be time-consuming. Most often, the credibility of the source is unknown. The submissions that do carry impressive or familiar names are sometimes ghost-written. In more home-grown attempts, facts go uncited and need to be verified. Submissions are reliably painfully long, incorporating every idea one has ever had. Most must be AP-style scoured.

But clean-up time or lack of identity shouldn't doom the good or thought-provoking idea, should it? Surely every editorial writer had hundreds of worthwhile points to make long before a publisher was crazy enough to publish his or her thoughts on a daily basis. So here are some suggestions for weeding the field of other people's dreams.

* Skim the first several graphs. One paragraph alone usually isn't enough, as non-journalists are tempted by the long, winding path when getting started.

* Since content is key and duplication is wasteful, ask yourself whether the piece duplicates an opinion you have just run or is similar to several opinions available to you via reliable sources. If so, toss it.

* Next question: Does the piece come from a person who reads or subscribes to your paper? If it does and if the topic is of a local nature or successfully rebuts something published in your paper, seriously consider spending the necessary time to scrub it and run it. Top consideration for unsolicited op-ed submissions at The Columbian, a 60,000-circulation paper, goes to local writers writing on state or local issues.

We have plenty of resources to supply us with hot and cold national or international topics. But wire commentary doesn't provide us with complaints about the building moratorium in Salmon Creek. It doesn't express outrage over a local congressional candidate who took unemployment bennies while working as a state senator.

* Does the piece come from a well-known person or organization? It shouldn't matter. Weigh the subject matter. And be careful not to run a well-known person or agency's ideas, however good, too often. You are not providing a monthly column for such entities. You are trying to get the greatest number of viewpoints on your page as possible.

* Automatically reject anyone who relies on insults or generalizations to make an argument.

* Reject any piece that devotes five percent or more to directly promoting or praising the author's services, be it a government entity or private organization.

* Reject a piece that can't focus on a specific policy or topic. If that is the piece's only real flaw, however, encourage the writer to resubmit it after a good wrestle with indecision.

Communicating the paper's willingness to run unsolicited opinions from local people, organizations, and politicians is important. Do so in a yearly overview of your editorial pages. Remind letter readers and writers in a box of brief guidelines on the editorial page that you accept longer submissions as well as letters to the editor.

Elizabeth Hovde is an editorial writer and columnist for The Columbian in Vancouver, Washington. E-mail elizabeth.hovde@columbian.com
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Title Annotation:editing op-ed submissions
Author:Hovde, Elizabeth
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2003
Words:600
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