How a College Student Wrote a Lead Op-Ed in the Chicago Tribune

I’ve been an intern at the OpEd Project since Chicago’s Oct. 1st seminar.  As a journalism student at Northwestern University, it was very inspiring for me to be around women with so many more professional and personal accomplishments than I.  Though I’d always been confident in my writing abilities, I feared that my lack of life experience in comparison with the rest of opinion writers put me at a disadvantage.

So when I sent in my piece on North Korea and family to The Chicago Tribune, I did not even think that it would run as one of the lead op-eds on Christmas.  The whole process proved to me that truly anyone can write an op-ed, because everyone has something to share with the world.

It began with the news of Kim Jong-Il’s death on Dec. 17th.  My interest was immediately peaked.  Everyone seems to know about North Korea’s violation of human rights and political pariah status.  But little know of the families who were torn apart when Korea was  permanently split into two, something that my own family was subjected to.  I knew that I had to write about it.  My family comes from South Korea, so the news of the dictator’s death naturally had more meaning for us than most Americans.

This proved to be the crucial news hook to my story.  When writing for a media outlet, even if it’s an opinion piece, it is ideal to relate to a current event, as the public’s interest in the topic and the story’s impact will be high.

My next step was to make sure that my story was, in fact, of interest to other people.  This was another way that the OpEd Project helped me out, since it was through the organization that I was introduced to her.  I looked her up on the Tribune’s contacts page (many editors at other outlets are easily reachable as well) and left a short pitch on her voicemail.  She called me back the next morning and said my story interesting, and that I should send her my draft as soon as possible.

I had to write 800-something words in that same day and send it to her the next.  Writing the op-ed, however, was easy.  Much easier than I thought it would be.  The wonderful thing about writing op-eds is that freedom of expression and voice are encouraged.  It is almost like writing a diary entry, except the facts much be perfectly straightforward and correct.

After I sent it in, Marcia called me the same day to tell me it would be running online and in print on Christmas.  I was elated.  Not only was my work worth publishing in the Tribune, but more importantly the story of the personal tragedies caused by North Korea would be shared with many.  People would know.  People would be aware.  People would, perhaps, begin to care about North Korea for more than political reasons.

We all have a part of ourselves, be it a career, relationship, or something else, that is worth sharing.  A well-rounded, healthy society is one in which a rich conversation is fueled by a range of voices.  As I outlined and as the OpEd Project teaches, the steps to getting our individual voice out there are fairly simple.  It just takes effort and some creative thinking.

Take it from me, a 21-year-old girl still struggling to get her homework done on time.  If I can do it, so can you.


Link to the article:,0,6269574.story











One comment

  1. Congratulations on your success in getting published. Your piece is a timely reminder of the importance of family ties and highlights how easily they can be lost through the actions of others.
    I hope 2012 brings you further opportunities.

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