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The (lengthy) evolution of an op-ed News hits

The seed was planted during a public relations conference I attended in early June.

I attended a workshop on how to successfully place Op-Eds (opinion pieces that run opposite the editorial page in newspapers). During the presentation, it occurred to me that this would be a perfect medium in which to obtain some national media attention for Professor Sam McQuade’s cyber education initiative.

Upon returning to campus, I shared my thoughts with McQuade and asked if he was interested in working with me to write such a piece. He was. And so began a seven month long process that concluded this week with the publication of a guest essay, authored by McQuade, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Yeah, that’s right. Seven months.

Writing the piece was easy. However, successfully pitching it takes time. All of the big time newspapers want exclusives. Therefore, it isn’t a good idea to send out the piece to more than one newspaper at a time. In the event that two newspapers want to publish the piece, a bridge will undoubtedly be burnt with one of them. And that’s just bad public relations.

McQuade and I opted to go straight to the top. We pitched the Op-Ed piece to the New York Times. A week went by. No response. We pitched it to USA Today. A week went by. No response. We pitched it to the Washington Post. A week went by. No response.

I was beginning to get a bit frustrated. However, I did realize that we had a major obstacle in our way. The Hezbollah fiasco was raging in Lebanon and eating up a sizeable chunk of the opinion pages in the United States.

Mike Saffran suggested that we take a different approach, and pitch the topic to the Chronicle of Higher Education. He noted that higher education reporters across the country read the Chronicle on a regular basis, and that an in-depth piece published there, could lead to some other outstanding placements.

So, I fired off an email, pitching the topic to one of the Chronicle’s editors. We received a response almost instantaneously. The editor wanted to know more about McQuade’s vision for the role of higher education in this process. Two weeks later, the editor commissioned a 2,000-word piece for publication.

The piece was finally submitted for publication during the last week in August. But it didn’t end there. McQuade and I communicated with three different editors during the process—and each one had their own set of suggestions. Ultimately, shortly before Thanksgiving, the final version was completed.

Was it worth all the time that was invested in it? I definitely think so. Being featured in a prestigious publication like the Chronicle is a big deal.

The real pay off, however, is hopefully yet to come. Stay tuned to see if this piece results in more publicity for McQuade and his research.

  1. Mike Saffran
    Jan 03

    Congratulations, Sam and John!

    As you know, John, I like to tell people who say they don't read The Chronicle of Higher Education, "Well, you might not read it, but I guarantee you the education reporter for The New York Times does!"

    A placement in the Chronicle can be more effective than sending a news release to other media outlets—which is also a reason why, as a reader, it's one of my favorite publications. Readers of the Chronicle, often read news months before it appears elsewhere.

  2. Justin Thorp
    Jan 04

    John, yeah congrats on finally getting the piece published. I would love to see it wind up in the NY Times or Washington Post (what I read in the morning.)

  3. John Follaco
    Jan 04

    Thanks, Mike and Justin. While I'm sure the NY Times, the Washington Post and other major newspapers wouldn't run the piece in its entirety, I am hopeful that a reporter from one of those publications reads the piece and is interested in writing a story about McQuade's research. I'll keep my fingers crossed!

  4. Mike Saffran
    Jan 04

    Justin, I'm curious if you can buy The Chronicle of Higher Education at newsstands in D.C, since the newspaper is published in Washington? I don't believe one can get it anywhere in Rochester except via subscription.

  5. Will
    Jan 04

    I also attended the PR conference John mentioned in his original post and one of the points the speakers there kept making was make sure your stories are both original and relevant. Reporters and editors want hot topics that matter to their readers and they will respond to good ideas. The trick is to package it in a way that will generate a response and pitch that package to the appropriate people.

    Congrats to both John and Sam for their great work on the project. The topic is timely and important and the Chronicle was the perfect outlet for the piece. I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here!

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