This past Saturday, April 16th, I spent my day as a participant in the program I’ve assisted in running behind the scenes for nearly three months now. Despite my initial hesitation, I found my time at the Op-Ed Project’s New York Seminar to be engaging, enlightening and overall a phenomenal use of a rainy day.
Things opened with a casual breakfast of bagels and light conversation before moving on a standard parade of introductions and greetings and progressing, finally, to an opening exercise that remains one of the most insightful experiences in recent memory. While I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone who hasn’t (but surely should) had the chance to participate in one of these seminars yet, those who have will certainly catch my drift when I say that sometimes knowing yourself can be more difficult than you might suppose.
After the lunch break the day resumed with a more formal guide to approaching the art of the op-ed. As the hours ticked by and the exercises stacked up, I found myself staring deeper into a beast that I thought I had conquered quite some ago. As the social media intern here at the OEP, I (wonderfully) get to read each and every successful publication by former participants of the program: I carefully scan each—always from a growing variety of publications—and, in 140 characters or less, try my best to crystallize the point, the purpose behind the author’s countless hours of work. This role, combined with a pre-existing healthy appetite for op-ed reading, had lead me to believe, before Saturday, not only that I understood the abstract concept of an op-ed piece, but also that I could, with ease, guide someone to writing their own. Not true; simply, not true.
That afternoon the magnificent and magnetic Katherine Lanpher—as well as the equally qualified OEP founder Katie Orenstein—treated we seminar participants to a surgically compressed break-down (but not a template: I cannot stress this enough) of how op-eds work, conception to publication: the proper opening tools and hooks; tips for highlighting and establishing relevance; methods of strengthening arguments while retaining core beliefs and audience, etc. As the clock’s hands flirted with the scheduled 5 PM conclusion time, I had, in my hand, a rough yet workable outline for a possible piece and, in my head, what felt like a whole semester’s worth of glorious, insider knowledge and insight.
Because of the US’s wonderfully frustrating legal drinking age (at least in the eyes of a newly-minted 20 year-old), I was unable to attend the ensuing Happy Hour, instead opting to assist the actually wonderful Director of Operations here, Senka, clean up; to remove any sign that we were ever there. However, even though clearing the bagels and used napkins, rearranging the tables and chairs, resetting the world to as it was before was quite easy, clearing my mind of what I learned that day is nothing shy of impossible. So while I might have stepped onto the 9th floor of 260 5th Ave on Saturday with a firm belief that, basically, I wouldn’t learn too much that morning regarding writing an op-ed piece, just the opposite proved true: not only did I learn more than I ever conceived possible about the art, I also learned about a surprising bit about myself. Not a terrible way to spent a rainy Saturday—or a sunny one for that matter.
–Chris Fanikos is the social media intern here at The OpEd Project. He is a soon-to-be rising junior at NYU, a history major with a major interest in education and the progressing world of 21st century marketing and media.