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

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

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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

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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!