The OpEd Project Post-Seminar: Behind the Scenes

Ibata-Arens (A)Almost one month ago, I was among twenty DePaul faculty and staff OpEd Fellows to go through the first set of Public Voices Thought Leadership seminars. Our facilitators Deborah Siegel and Teresa Puente inspired us to put our pens to paper (or fingers to keyboards) and have our voices heard beyond the confines of academe.

I had been hesitant to apply, after all, the tenure and promotion race is governed by metrics on “peer reviewed” journal articles and monographs. My plate was pretty full already, having just finished three research projects in Japan and a volunteer project for the victims of the Tohoku disaster (the TOMODACHI Tohoku Challenge) – not to mention juggling the challenges of raising two children and dealing with a new puppy in my house.

I applied because of an experience I had last year in Tokyo, in the days after the massive earthquake in Japan. In the days after 3.11.11 I was thrown into a media circus. This included fielding interviews from newspapers and television news (I was later interviewed on a live news program, a surreal experience that could be another whole blog posting). In the first interviews after the earthquake, I realized that the interviewers were looking for a sound bite of information; and to be frank, I did a terrible job of conveying what I wanted to say. One interview took place at 3 o’clock in the morning after the earthquake – while Tokyo was still experiencing powerful aftershocks. I had to ask the interviewer to stop several times because the room, and the bed on which I sat were shaking so violently. The next day, I got an email from my brother asking me why I was having such fun in post-quake Japan, the news headline quoted me as saying “the bed is shaking right now.”

So here I am, one month into The OpEd Project, discovering that the “public media” face that I am trying to create looks a lot different from the reality of getting op-eds out the door and into the (hopefully approving) hands of news editors.

My “public media” face looks like this: a thoughtful professor, sitting with a backdrop of book-lined shelves behind me, whilst I ponder the intricacies of business and politics in Asia. Ideas flow effortlessly; as I dispatch news hook filled, yet substantive essays.

Screen shot 2013-01-10 at 8.56.12 PM

The reality is something a bit different. It includes much racking of my brain to try to figure out news hooks through which my ideas and expertise on economics and politics in Japan could be linked: not an easy task. My mentor, Teresa Puente, encourages me to “be ahead of the news” so I am online constantly (even signed on to Twitter, @IbataArens), texting ideas and article links to myself. Once we identify a good news hook, two or three days of intensive activity ensues. The first three drafts involve simplifying my fifteen-years-in-the-making “academic speak” of field-specific lingo (which might explain why the average peer-reviewed journal article is read by only a handful of people). Revisions also include throwing myself all-in to a personal, first person narrative.

Mentor/me email thread:

Me: Here is my draft

Mentor: Let’s make it more personal

Me: OK, here is my second draft

Mentor: Can we add more about your family?

(I can’t help but envision the Saturday Night Live sketch with Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken: what this op-ed needs is “more cowbells”)

After hashing out a final draft, Teresa pitches it to “media gatekeepers” while I try not to check email compulsively for word on a thumbs up or down.

So far, the result has been a piece in Newsweek’s the Daily Beast and in the Huffington Post. Another is in the pipeline. I think I need a nap.

Dr. Ibata-Arens is an associate professor in the department of political science at DePaul University in Chicago. Ibata-Arens specializes in international and comparative political economy, entrepreneurship policy, high technology policy and Japanese political economy. She is a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.

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