Speak out. Make your voice heard. Never give up. These are just a few tidbits of wisdom that The OpEd Project “Write to Change the World” Core Seminar participants left with at the end of the day on May 5.
The sold-out class in the Los Angeles office of Ms. Magazine was led by Teresa Puente, a multitalented instructor hailing from Chicago. Puente is an assistant professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago who also writes for Chicanísima, an independent news and opinion blog for Chicago Now (Chicago Tribune Media Co.). During the seminar, she spoke about her experience as a member of the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board and her experience as a writer on immigration and the Latino community in the United States. Interesting enough, it was Puente’s first time back to California after an extended period of time–she had previously worked at The Orange County Register and The Long Beach Knight Ridder (now know as the Long Beach Press-Telegram). Puente was able to help guide participants in developing their expertise and thinking of ways to construct their arguments.
Apart from Puente, American journalist and author Tom Zoellner spoke about his experience as an op-ed writer and how to go about pitching articles to editors. He gave them a few tips on how to approach editors and how to identify whether a news items is still fresh or is already stale. It was very much a collaborative session, with many questions answered and insights from Puente and West Coast Regional Manager Chelsea Carmona.
In addition, the individuals who attended the seminar were from all walks of life. Some had traveled far and wide, visiting from cities like San Francisco and Santa Barbara. The group also showcased a wide variety of professions, from lawyers and professors to city planners and students. The issues also ran the gamut, with some interested in writing about employment law to others wanting to address media culture or feminism.
The day ended with a jovial Happy Hour at Napa Valley Grille, where people gathered on the outdoor patio to sip on beverages and dine on appetizers. There was lots of chatter as everyone mingled in this intimate atmosphere. Special thanks to the past OEP Los Angeles alums who also attended the Happy Hour. It was great to see so many friends and past participants as well as hear about their various writing projects.
Connie K. Ho is the Los Angeles Regional Management Intern of The OpEd Project.
This Saturday, 23 up and coming opinionists joined The OpEd Project team at The Wikimedia Foundation to perfect their arguments. Seminar Leader Courtney Martin asked participants to think of OpEd as a metaphor for broader thought-leadership and explained how the OpEd pages can be a front-door forum to all kinds of amazing opportunities!
Three very special Alum Ambassadors joined us for the day: Gemma Bulos, Julius Paras, and Charlotte Fishman.
After the seminar, local alums and mentor-editors joined us for a cocktail hour – and we were thrilled to see special guests OpEd Project Founder Katie Orenstein’s parents!
We welcome these 23 to the San Francisco OpEd Project community – we look forward to reading you!
As I started my to-do list for April 2, my husband, at his laptop, commented, “Look how pretty the Google doodle is today.” Both writers, we often find ourselves working from home in the same room. I glanced over at the swirl of vines, decked with moths and a lizard, and recognized it as an homage to Maria Sibylla Merian, a rather obscure 17th-century artist and naturalist, about whom I had written a biography. The doodle celebrated her 366th birthday and now, thanks to Google, everyone would know who she was.
Ordinarily I would be stymied, wanting to dash something off, not quite knowing how to frame it. My computer is a junkyard of opinion pieces that never got off the ground.
But this time I knew exactly what I wanted to say. A few weeks before, urged by a friend, I attended The OpEd Project all-day seminar in New York. Through the discussions and practice exercises, I could see how much of my reluctance to finish those earlier essays had to do with roadblocks of my own making: the unwillingness to simplify an argument to fit into 700 words, the reluctance to take a strong position for fear of being criticized.
Inspired by teachers Katherine Lanpher and Jennifer Block and the enthusiasm of the seminar participants, I got out of my own way, and wrote a piece for Women’s History Month suggesting that current debates about motherhood/work conflict would gain from looking at how women in history, including Merian, had handled it. Of course, after much tinkering, then a whole-scale revision prompted by my mentor-editor, I was only able to send it out once and receive one rejection before March and Women’s History Month were over. It joined the folder of my other failed attempts.
But suddenly, it was incredibly timely. So timely, it had to be published that day. Recasting it to mention the doodle, I sent it off to Salon.com, which was West Coast and online. If all worked out, the story would arrive in the editor’s in-box at 6 a.m. An hour and a half later, I had a response from the editor-in-chief saying he would take it, and less than an hour after that, it was up. I turned the screen to show my husband the Salon site: “Google honors a feminist original.”
He looked surprised. “Is that the piece you were just working on?”
The seminar leaders insisted they were not giving us a template, but their concrete suggestions for what makes an op/ed effective and publishable helped at least one essay escape the junkyard and find its purpose.
Kim Todd is the author of Chrysalis, Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis; Sparrow; and Tinkering with Eden, a Natural History of Exotics in America. She is an assistant professor at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.
Weekends are sacred time–for exercise, playing with my pets, which are often stranded alone during busy workweeks, and connecting with friends who fall by the wayside when I’m busy preparing for incoming speakers in the Joan B. Kroc Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of San Diego’s (USD) Kroc School of Peace Studies. So I thought long and hard before signing up for The OpEd Project all-day Saturday workshop in San Diego.
My position as a Senior Program Officer for the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice (I know, there are a lot of “Krocs” here, but Mrs. Kroc made several major endowment gifts and deserves all the recognition she gets) includes organizing and publicizing lectures by diplomats and peacebuilders such as Nobel Laureates Shirin Ebadi of Iran, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, and Leymah Gbowee, the remarkable inter-religious coalition builder from Liberia. I also speak to community groups about peace and justice issues, contribute to the web site, and seek out funding sources for Institute programs.
I have a journalism/public relations background, including stints at the New York Post, CBS Sports, ABC Sports, and other print and television media. But the reason I chose to sacrifice a Saturday to the writing gods was that peace and justice issues have little space in shrinking print media, especially in San Diego, where a new owner of the one major newspaper recently created a weekly “Military and Defense” section and the Editorial and Letters to the Editor sections are filled with one-sided commentary.
The workshop turned out to be a worthwhile investment. The following day, I took the op-ed I had used as a sample during the workshop, filled out the details and submitted it to my OpEd Project mentor editor and to the Director of Media Relations at the University of San Diego. That week, my Veteran’s Day OpEd balanced articles by Vice-President Joe Biden and a former military officer in the San Diego Union-Tribune. A second op-ed ran just after the U.S. elections, and I’m planning several others in the near future.
One unexpected challenge has been convincing my bosses that I should be able to use my work title in my byline even though the op-eds reflect my opinion, not that of the organization. My husband has also expressed concern that I might suffer personal attacks for expressing my views in such a public sphere. But I have found that The OpEd Project training in presenting counter-factuals and overcoming those objections in the articles has kept such attacks to a minimum and has actually opened up conversations with people who come from very different perspectives. This is, in fact, my goal in writing–to create cracks in belief systems that might allow new ideas to seep into previously closed minds.
Recently, USD’s College of Arts and Sciences organized an op-ed workshop on campus for faculty. I haven’t tracked their success, but I hope they have the same feeling of freedom of expression and power of ideas (and ideals) that I do from taking the opportunity to add my voice to important national conversations.
Diana Kutlow is a senior program officer at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice. Kutlow has managed the endowed Joan B. Kroc Distinguished Lecture Series for nine years, bringing world leaders in peacemaking, human rights and conflict prevention to the Institute. Kutlow received a B.A. in history with a minor in Russian language from Barnard College at Columbia University and a master’s degree in the inaugural class of USD’s graduate program in peace and justice studies.
I was intrigued but also a bit dubious as to how valuable The OpEd program would be for me as an academic: I wasn’t short of confidence that I had something to say. But in the course of the day I came to recognize that I had been stymied by fear of the opprobrium that could be attracted by writing on controversial topics. The seminar challenged me to overcome that fear by thinking about what I might have to say that others might need to hear. That (plus a hardnosed discussion of how to cope with hateful comments online: get someone to screen them) gave me the commitment to write on a controversial topic – gun control, seen from the perspective of the ancient Greek and Roman view of the threat posed by weapons to citizen equality in public spaces.
The week after the seminar, I wrote a draft of the idea in relation to the ‘hook’ of a new ‘open carry’ law in Oklahoma – submitted it – and was rejected by a number of places.
Then the horrific killings in Newtown happened, followed by the debate about new legislation on gun control in Washington DC and in many states. I rewrote my piece, submitted it more places, and was rejected again. At that point, I asked for the help of a Mentor Editor. James Ledbetter of Thomson Reuters advised me to expand the piece and turn it upside down: instead of starting with Thucydides, I started with the American founders and only then came to why they – and we – might think about the ancient Greeks and Romans on how weapons threaten equality. I was delighted when the revised piece was accepted by the New Yorker culture blog: and also got great feedback from a national newspaper that has asked me to submit directly to their editorial team in future.
And on the controversy: the piece did attract some hateful comments, as well as some thoughtful and instructive ones. But one pleasant surprise was that every single person who took the trouble to look up my email address, sent a positive response, some overwhelmingly so. I had feared a stream of hateful emails; instead, I was glad to find so many people who had been stimulated by the piece – who had needed to hear what The OpEd program helped me to say.
Melissa Lane is professor of politics at Princeton University. In 2013-14, she is on sabbatical as a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, supported also by having been named a 2012 Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. She is the author of several books, most recently Eco-Republic: What the Ancients Can Teach Us about Ethics, Virtue, and Sustainable Living (Princeton, 2012) and will be recording a lecture and conversation for the radio program ‘Philosophy Talk’ to be broadcast later this spring; podcasts of interviews with her about philosophy can also be found through www.philosophybites.com.
We were proud to work with the ADVANCE Implementation Mentors (AIM) Network to promote women of color and their allies in the STEM fields. The group included three women who’d considered being nuns, one college bodybuilder and a real, live rocket scientist!
The OpEd Project’s Michele Weldon recent Christian Science Monitor op-ed “Fallout from Olympic wrestling takedown – a mother’s protest” is an example of combining personal anecdotes in an opinion piece. Weldon, an author of three nonfiction books and a journalist for more than 33 years, is the director of the Northwestern Public Voices Fellowship. In this op-ed she strikes a solid balance between presenting personal experiences and history with stats, news and data.
Take for instance, the lede of her article, which introduces her personal experience:
I’m the mom of a wrestling family. Last August, two of my sons – both former high school wrestlers – went to the London Olympics to root for our local star, Ellis Coleman, a.k.a., the “flying squirrel,” who wrestled Greco Roman.
Though Coleman lost, Weldon explains that he intended to continue competing. However, “The governing board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted by secret ballot Feb. 19 to exclude wrestling from its guaranteed slot in the 2020 summer games, reportedly to “modernize” the Olympics.”
Weldon, an assistant professor of journalism at The Medill School at Northwester, weaves personal experience with timely, relevant facts. Later in her article, Weldon reminds us of her insight and expertise as a parent into the world of amateur youth, high school and college wrestling.
In 13 years of watching my three sons wrestle, I learned quickly that people commonly mistake youth and high school wrestling for the clownish, steroid-pumped fights of platinum-blonde professional WWF wrestling on television.
Next, she moves to hard data and evidence of the importance wrestling holds for high school youth comparison to other sports, such as gymnastics and swimming:
According to the National Federation of High Schools, nearly 57,000 more American high school athletes wrestle than play golf, a sport that the International Olympic Committee plans to keep in the summer mix. There are 13 times more high-school wrestlers in this country than gymnasts in high schools, and nearly the same number of wrestlers as swimmers and divers at the high school level.
This serves as an example of how an op-ed can use personal insight, persuasion, news hooks and evidence to create a valid argument.
I think it was meant to be when I got the call from Connie K. Ho (West Coast Intern of The OpEd Project) to come and join the “Write to Change the World” seminar held at UC San Diego. I was already aware of how prestigious The OpEd Project was in the editorial world and it was an honor to be asked to be associated with this organization. I can say firsthand that The OpEd Project is a highly effective writing seminar that teaches women everything they need to know about op eds from prepping an article to getting it published. After my OpEd Project experience, I know how much that I have to offer in this industry and the world!
I wasn’t exactly sure what I could expect for the workshop but it was everything I anticipated and so much more! In addition to working alongside other established women writers with outstanding ideas, I thoroughly enjoyed and benefited most from learning how to show evidence of credibility and my area of expertise. Through an exercise, I learned that I have much more experience than I thought and can effectively prove that I am an expert in women’s luxury lifestyle writing. Seminar staffers E.J. Graff, Chelsea Carmona, and Yoonj Kim were great mentors during this process of what did and didn’t work for me.
Being a writer in the present day journalism industry seems like a dime a dozen. These days, with Facebook, personal blogs and the fast-paced world of social media, it seems like just about anyone can be a “writer” and anyone’s voice can be heard with the click of a mouse. It can be difficult to stand out among the millions of voices out there, but with a convincing voice and effective evidence, we have the ability to create a movement.
In a world where not every country gives women to speak their mind, we as American women must exercise our right to free expression and our opinions. Having the opportunity to speak your mind might not change other’s opinions but it has the ability to open up their mindset to another way of thinking about that issue.
Being held the week before International Women’s Day, The OpEd Project seminar has opened my eyes up to the fact that my point of view and every other woman’s matters. I have so many ideas buzzing through my brain that I am confused on which to begin with first. With a new sense of self-confidence in my writing, I am much more apt to actually send in an op-ed than I would have two weeks ago. And I’m so proud of the fact that I have the ability change the world and you should too. WE can change the world … so let’s do it! Are you with me?
As a native of sunny San Diego with a love for city life, Marisa Ashlie Machak strives to maintain a West Coast-meets-East Coast lifestyle. After receiving her Literary Journalism degree from the University of California, Irvine, Marisa focused her attention to becoming an expert in all women’s luxury lifestyle topics. She has been published in both online and print publications in Orange County such as LadyLUX.com and Ocean Magazine.