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Writing and Publishing an Opinion Article

By publishing our opinion in influential daily newspapers, we can put sex workers’ rights on the public agenda, influence public discourse by promoting rights-based approach, and –ultimately - contribute to the policy or legislation change. Almost every daily newspaper in SWAN region has an opinion page, where not news, but opinions and commentaries (journalists call them “op-eds”) of the newspaper editors, commentators, or guest-writers are published. While newspaper editors and commentators write about different topics, guest-writers usually comment on the issues from the area of their specialization.

SWAN members are respectable NGOs with a long track of successful projects tackling HIV and STI. In many cases we are the first or still the only organizations in our countries working with sex workers – either by providing them with health and counseling services or in some cases by involving them in service provision, policy development and advocacy. That positions us as well-qualified to offer to the newspapers our opinion about sex work, sex workers’ human rights and public health issues. Here is how we can do it:

Getting Started

1. Research. Look at the editorial pages of your local newspaper for several days to get an idea of how it covers opinion (op-ed) material. Besides “letters to the editor,” there are columns written by readers, like “In My Opinion,” or “Commentary.” Read lots of op-eds to see how they’re constructed. It may help to notice style, content, tone, and incorporate this into your own piece. Remember, this is OPINION, but an editor makes the decision to run it.

2. Plan the date: tie your op-ed to a good “news hook” related to breaking news, whenever possible. If the op-ed is newsworthy right now, get it in immediately. If not, then your op-ed should be slated to run on or near the date of something newsworthy. For example, around a Supreme Court challenge on a sex worker case, the International AIDS Day, International Day Against Violence Against Sex Workers, etc. You might think about preparing a piece long before it is timely or newsworthy. For example, in advance of the UN Human Rights Day, or in anticipation of an event you are sponsoring. If you prepare the op-ed piece well in advance, you can fine tune it and have it ready to go when something newsworthy happens related to the issue you’ve written about.

3. Call the newspaper. If connected to current news, call as soon as possible. If you want to offer your article to appear around an international date, call at least 2-3 weeks before that date. The number is listed in the newspaper, or you can always get it out of the phone book. Ask to be connected with someone who can answer questions about their editorial policy towards submitting op-ed material. Once you reach the person with accurate information, ask questions about how to submit an op-ed: how many words, what format, timeframes, how to submit (fax, e-mail, or hard copy by mail, etc.) Get the opinion page editors name and contact information so you can send your article directly to him/her.

Writing Your Commentary

4. Write the body of your op-ed piece now. Op-eds are generally about 750 words, so you should prepare a piece of about 600 words as a first draft. This will be the body of your op-ed. Boil your argument down to three major points: One, what is the problem. Two, why and how it is relevant to the whole society. Three, how we can solve this problem and what should be done next.

Use simple, short sentences. Avoid fancy words and jargon, acronyms. Make your paragraphs short—no more than three sentences each.

Power Ending. Close on a strong note. A short, powerful last paragraph should drive your point home. And get ready to move your opinion piece the moment big news happens.

5. The op-ed editor must realize this is BIG NEWS. Be sure to have information that shows this is a big news story, use articles that have appeared over the past few months (called clips.) Use this “news hook” and lead your op-ed with that. Express your point of view clearly and boldly in the first paragraph. If you have the body written already, you can just add the “hook” when you are ready to get it to get it to the editor. That way, you can do it quick. And quick is essential.

What editors want is:

1. Timeliness: Newsworthy and meets deadlines. You MUST get your op-ed into the editor in time for it to be newsworthy. It WILL NOT get published unless you strictly adhere to the editor’s guidelines, and get it in by any deadline he/she may establish.

2. A well stated point-of-view with a topical beginning hooked to the news.

3. The view of someone with “standing.” Standing means that you are an authority on this issue. Example: “Director of the only civil society organization in our country providing health services to sex workers”. If you are on a board or are appointed to a council, and can demonstrate your authority, play it up!

4. The correct length.

5. Keep it Simple.

Adopted from and original document by the ADA Watch

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