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UNL News Blog

The art and science of the op-ed

Chancellor Perlman made the rounds in Big Ten Country this weekend. Well, not physically. But his thoughts and sentiments did show up in a number of daily newspapers in cities that cover the Big Ten Conference. The chancellor’s opinion-editorial piece, in sum, noted UNL’s pride in being asked to join the prestigious league of universities; it assured readers in Big Ten land that the Huskers will compete hard in their new conference; and it mentioned that the Huskers are looking forward to mixing it up on the courts and playing fields with our new conference brethren in 2011.

Moreover, the chancellor spoke of the academic and cultural fit for the Big Ten in adding the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This has been one of our key talking points since the rumors began to swirl several weeks ago about UNL possibly bolting the Big 12 for the Big Ten, and it’s gratifying to see that message get out loud and clear. Inclusion in the new conference — and the Committee for Institutional Cooperation that accompanies the invite — will have profound effects on the academic side of the university for years to come.

Early last week, we approached the chancellor to see if he would be up for jotting down a few thoughts about the Big Red joining the Big Ten, now that the realignment dust had settled. He agreed it would be a good time to reinforce his belief that our university was a natural fit for the Big Ten, put down a few paragraphs and sent them our way. Over the next few days, we worked with the chancellor to rework, expand and massage his thoughts and began pushing the op-ed to a number of papers in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania. After working the phones, it was clear there was some enthusiasm on these media outlets’ behalf to use what the chancellor had written. We were pleased in the exposure the op-ed received over the weekend, and expect it to land in a few more places before it’s done.

There are a few tricks to placing op-eds, tricks that applied to this op-ed as they do all others:

First of all, it has to be in the run of play. It has to be newsy. Check; lots of people across the United States — and especially in the upper Midwest — were talking about Harvey Perlman last week. He was, bluntly, a big newsmaker. That part was easy.

The article was about 550 words long. For op-eds, anything over 700 words is practically ruled out on sight, unless it’s from the Unabomber.

The piece made a small number of points — well. The chancellor didn’t try to solve all of the world’s problems in 550 words; he simply reaffirmed his steadfast belief that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shares Big Ten culture, values and tradition, and expanded from there.

He used short sentences and paragraphs. While not overwhelmingly conversational, the chancellor’s op-ed was short, blunt and to the point. He used direct language and didn’t overdo it. He struck a nice balance between honoring what the Big Ten has accomplished up to this point, and politely suggested that with the addition of his school, it was about to get even better.

He acknowledged some criticism in the conference realignment shuffle, without creating a tiring rebuttal and rehashing of old arguments. Op-eds tend to look more credible, and certainly more appealing, if the author doesn’t engage in tit-for-tat that has no end. The chancellor focused on the future and, again, kept things positive.

Last, we thought long and hard about where to submit the article. Sure, the New York Times would be great, with the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post as fallbacks. But we also knew that there would be significant interest in Perlman’s thoughts in the epicenters of Big Ten fandom. That led us to mid-sized papers in places like Iowa City and Lafayette and Harrisburg and East Lansing as well as larger metros like Indianapolis and Columbus.

You don’t have to be at the epicenter of a tectonic shift in college football conference alignment to place an op-ed. UNL authors have appeared in nearly every media market, and have fared best with arguments and discussions that are focused, provocative, witty or surprising. If you’ve got an idea for an op-ed on a topic in which you have expertise, let us know. We can help your thoughts and opinions get onto the page, and then get some local, regional or even national exposure.

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