The competition to place an op-ed at a top newspaper is brutal. Major papers like The New York Times
and Wall Street Journal
receive thousands of opinion submissions every week. But they run only one or two outside submissions per day. Some days, their regular columnists fill the entire page.
When sifting through that torrent of op-eds, editors tend to deploy a couple handy, commonsense heuristics. One of them is the obvious but important question: "Is this piece tied to something newsworthy?" You might have composed an op-ed of astonishing eloquence and insight. But if your piece is about a story that transpired a year -- or even a month -- ago, it probably isn't placing.
That means your op-ed needs to establish a news hook within the first couple sentences. The best way to give yourself a bona fide chance of getting serious consideration is to craft a timely opening paragraph. Here are four rules to follow:
1) The news hook should be an event from the past few days.
Your hook should be of sufficient relevance that it could be covered on the front page of whatever paper you're pitching. Last week, hooks of national relevance would include the sequestration and new gun control legislation.
2) Stay descriptive.
Remember, at this point in the piece the editor's chief concern isn't its angle -- it's its relevance. You can save the explicit opinion for later on. In your introductory paragraph you want to provide the basic facts and create some context before laying out your thesis.
3) Keep it short and punchy.
The first paragraph should be no longer than three sentences. Don't weigh it down with excess information. You should aim to include only the details that matter.