Op-Eds Resized With Shrinking News Space

Getting opinion columns placed in the paper means producing shorter, more tightly written pieces that will get posted in the online edition.Getting guest opinion columns or letters to the editors placed in local newspapers remains an important tactic for most public affairs outreach efforts. With the election over, space should be opening up for other topics. But that’s not necessarily true. The target for success is getting smaller.

The term “Op-ed” means “opposite the editorial page,” a spot where reader-penned opinion columns frequently appeared. But space for unsolicited citizen commentaries is shrinking, along with space in print publications for news and features.

One local weekly, the Lake Oswego Review, just announced new rules for submitting commentaries. Tighter restrictions went into effect this week. The problem was a good one, the Review basically said: Too much reader response from a very active and involved community.

That may be true, but for the rest of the print world reduced advertising levels and fewer subscribers means smaller papers. We’re not sure if other publications owned by the Pamplin Group will follow the Review’s new policies, but it is a trend to watch.

Says Review Editor Martin Forbes: “In some ways, we are the envy of most other newspapers because of the engaged involvement of our readers. In other ways, this blessing is also a curse because we are forced to limit our ‘news’ content some weeks to allow room for this opinion.”

The new rules, perhaps indicative of other publishers, include earlier submission deadlines, word limits of about 500 for opinion pieces, regular letter limits of 300 words and limits of 200 words for political letters. The paper also placed a monthly limit on how often a reader may submit a column.

Keep in mind an online strategy when it comes to placing opinion columns. CFM recommends limits of 250 words, not the 500 allowed for the print edition. A tightly written story gets more readers and stays around longer online than in print.