Ask a Mentor-Editor: Kate Heartfield

KHKate Heartfield is a weekly columnist and a blogger for The Ottawa Citizen, and has been a member of that paper’s editorial board since 2005. Her columns, especially those that focus on social justice and poverty, are highly regarded, and in 2007, Heartfield was awarded the RESULTS Canada Media Award. She is also one of The Op-Ed Project’s Mentor Editors, and volunteers her considerable expertise in helping our workshop attendees edit and pitch their columns to papers (and as if you needed more convincing, her sunglasses make it pretty clear that she’s downright cool).

We posed to Kate the same three core questions we’ve been posing to our Mentor Editors over the past few weeks, and her responses were insightful and, most importantly, practical.

Chloe Angyal: Why do you think there are so few women on the op-ed pages?

Kate Heartfield: The main problem is that not enough women are submitting. It might be that women’s participation in public discourse is still novel enough that women don’t have the intergenerational mentorship support and the sense of entitlement that men have, and perhaps are still coming to grips with the idea that they can be opinion-shapers. I don’t know the whole answer. I do know that once an op-ed writer of either gender submits a few interesting, timely, well-written and proof-read pieces, within the desired word count — that writer will go on the editor’s list of reliable writers and might start getting commissions. That’s especially true if said writer takes editing well and can work to a deadline.

CA: What can individual women do to change the situation?

KH: Write! Submit! Repeat! Rejection happens for all kinds of reasons, and often it just means the editor has no space left on the page that week. If you don’t succeed the first time, don’t give up. Try again a couple of weeks later with a new piece of writing. Don’t pester the editor about pieces that have already been rejected, though. It is fair to let an editor know that if you don’t hear back within a certain period — say, a week, but it depends on the time-sensitivity of the topic — you will submit it to another paper.

CA: What advice would you give to a young feminist hoping to break into public debate?

KH: Learn the craft of op-ed writing. Newspapers will only give you space if you earn it. That means familiarizing yourself with writing for a mass audience. It means learning to write clear sentences, and learning to self-edit. It means developing a clear thesis that has some connection to the news of the day. Mentor-editors are here to help with all that. There’s a small book called The Elements of Style by Strunk and White that’s indispensable for anyone wanting to write for newspapers.

So what are you waiting for, brilliant women of the world? Take Kate’s advice: pick up a pen and start writing to change the world. If you want to learn how to do that The Op-Ed Project way, sign up for one of our upcoming sessions. In the next few months alone, we’ll be in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Cleveland!

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