19

How Two EAs Got Published in the New York Times

This article was coauthored with Sophie Hermanns.

Last spring, two EAs (us) were published in NYT as co-authors alongside Mark Bittman, writing about the consequences that factory farming has for human health. We were asked by several people to provide some brief tips about how to publish op-eds in similarly high-profile venues, so here ya go.

Do:

 

  • Find an outlet that has broadly overlapping values and has published on your topic
    • Contacting a writer who has written on your topic is one way to get your email read by higher-ups, but ultimately, you’ll have to go through an editor.

  • Come up with a compelling angle on a story

    • Novelty is key. Editors are often more interested in new formulations of arguments than rehearsals of the same debates (yes, even if an old way of looking at a problem is basically the right way).

    • Importance of your arguments ≠ publication. Sorry existential risk folks!

  • Tie your article to a news hook, if possible

    • Editors love hooks that allow them to peg an important topic to something timely (see: “The dark history behind letting male “geniuses” get away with bad behavior”). If you aren’t able to find something recent, that’s OK, don’t worry about it.

    • For calendar events, you can even plan your hook ahead of time. For example, if you want to write an op-ed next year about Stanislav Petrov Day (September 26th), set yourself a calendar reminder to start making pitches in August.

  • If possible, try to coauthor with an expert or be one yourself (preferably who is well-known)

    • For most outlets, this doesn’t substitute for a novel idea, timely hook, etc. Prestige does matter, though, so emphasize the credentials that you have or try to coauthor with someone who has a clear professional connection to the topic you’re writing about. Prestige alone will not get you an op-ed (unless you are Beyonce or Obama reading this post, in which case, HI!). It can, however, help make sure your idea is actually considered. Mark Bittman co-authored our op-ed, bringing both a big name and a personal connection to the New York Times. He was also just a great co-author to work with.

  • Write a brief, compelling pitch

    • This is the most important thing you will do, so make sure it is direct persuasive, and brief. Since most people scan their emails, we recommend checking the readability score of your writing with an online tool like this one or this one.

  • Make sure you have the right email address to pitch

    • You can usually find this in one of a couple of places: an editor or writer’s bio page, personal website, or just by Googling “[name] email.”

    • If this doesn’t work, you can also guess their email address by finding out the format that other emails follow at the same publication (e.g. “first.last@outlet.com”)

    • If you can find personal email addresses of journalists, this can get a higher reply rate than work addresses, since journalists usually have heavy spam filters. This approach carries some risk of offending people.

    • Ask around! We got the email address of one of the New York Times opinion editors from a friend.

  • Send your pitch to an editor right when they’re most likely to have their email open

    • We’ve had the most success pressing “send” on emails around 9am and 1230pm, right when people are starting work or getting back from lunch (we haven’t tested this rigorously though, so take it with a grain of salt). Editors get a million emails, so it’s helpful if you can capitalize on the human urge to respond to the most recent ping.

 

Don’t:

 

  • Write a full article before corresponding with an outlet

  • Pitch the same piece to multiple outlets at once

  • Pitch to outlets that don’t align well with your story or style

  • Extensively debate the focus of your piece via email - this will likely take up too much of people’s time and they will get distracted by something else

  • Write long emails

  • Write overly formal emails

  • Take a long time to respond to email

 

****

 

For your reading pleasure, we’ve also included the initial pitch that we sent to NYT below. Critiques welcome in the comments!

 

****

 

Subject: Op-Ed Pitch - WHO Open Letter w/ 60+ Signatories

 

Hi X,

I'd like to give you a pitch for an op-ed announcing the release of an open letter directed to the candidates for the next head of the World Health Organization.

So far, our open letter has 60+ signatories with relevant expertise including Noam Chomsky, Peter Singer, and Mark Bittman, as well as academics at Harvard, Hopkins, Oxford, etc.

The letter asks the next Director-General of the WHO to prioritize reducing animal farming during their tenure. Our primary arguments focus on animal farming's impact on climate change, antibiotic resistance, and non-communicable diseases.

Any interest? You can see the nearly finalized text here and preliminary signatory list here. [Links removed]

We are likely to publish the letter in full late this month or early May. Let me know if you have any questions.

Thanks,
Scott

 

****

If you’re interested in publishing, be sure to read other guides, as publications can be very specific about what they look for. See: Slate, Vox, NYT.

Lastly, we suggest that everyone gracefully accept rejection when it happens, as is usually the case. An ego that can’t be easily bruised is a writer’s best asset. Don’t be afraid to pitch the same outlet or editor twice (or more), especially if they have covered your topic before or respond to your emails. Merry pitching!

 

Comments (5)

Comment author: zdgroff 30 October 2017 06:57:12PM 3 points [-]

Thanks for writing this up! I learned some things here even having managed press previously for Direct Action Everywhere.

One thing I'd note that might help with some bruised emails (and let me know if you disagree) is that this business is highly random. Getting an op-ed published depends entirely on the judgments of a small number of people.

Also, one comment:

Pitch the same piece to multiple outlets at once

This is definitely standard press advice, but I'm actually curious if this is wise. Given that (I think) it's more often than not the case that the chance of getting published is quite low, if a piece is time-sensitive, doesn't this dramatically lower your chances of getting published (many places don't notify of rejections), while if you submit to multiple, the most that happens is you burn someone who might not have been a good contact anyway? I've been wondering if the common wisdom is wrong here.

Comment author: Khorton 30 October 2017 09:34:34PM *  2 points [-]

If you really want to publicize something time-sensitive, perhaps you could pitch to multiple publications with query letters personalized to each? You could end up writing 2+ articles or op-eds on the same topic (open letter about factory farming) but with different angles and tones (focus on famous people who are concerned vs focus on animal rights vs focus on risks to humans).

I've seen this option suggested online eg here: https://www.theadventurouswriter.com/blogwriting/multiple-query-letters-magazines/

[Edited for clarity.]

Comment author: scottweathers 30 October 2017 07:38:50PM *  1 point [-]

Totally agree, it's very random. I would warn folks who pitch against trying to read the tea leaves of why any individual editor didn't respond to your email, because you're probably wrong. It's also tough on your sanity!

If the piece is time-sensitive, I can see the value of the strategy you're suggesting, but it carries a fair amount of risk if you're trying to pitch op-eds in multiple places. If you're placing regular news articles, as opposed to op-eds, that strategy would probably be OK (so long as you say that you've pitched other journalists if they ask).

Comment author: joshjacobson  (EA Profile) 30 October 2017 06:52:31PM *  2 points [-]

(x-post from FB, so phrasing is written more directly as a comment to Scott)

I think this is mostly spot on. There's one or two additional things I might have included based on my experience (would probably emphasize warm introductions more and mention the value in getting on their radar early).

Also just noting that I think the email could have been improved upon, but I'm interested in whether you share this belief. Top suggestion would have been to have one of the key attention-grabbing names in the subject line of the email, and to prioritize brevity a bit more.

I'm glad you wrote this... I do get questions in this vein a lot and expect it to be a helpful resource for many.

Comment author: scottweathers 30 October 2017 07:36:11PM 1 point [-]

Thanks! I agree with the value of warm intros, given that this can be in tension with brevity.

I also think the email could've been improved in the ways you suggest, thanks!