At Fifty by Fifty, we just published an op-ed about employee ownership in Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel as well as Madison’s Capital Times. The fact that Madison is the capital matters, because it means the piece probably floated around the halls of the Capitol building the Monday after it ran. I wanted to share the story of how we at The Democracy Collaborative (TDC) pulled this piece together, to share lessons of getting published — lessons of getting the word out more effectively about employee ownership.
1. Our communications director, John Duda, spotted a great “news peg” on Monday in the New York Times. A news peg is something current and big — breaking news people will be talking about– which offers a “peg” on which to hang your favorite topic (employee ownership). The news: Wisconsin had offered $3 billion in incentives to Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer, to locate a plant in the state.
2. John emailed a number of staff — who had time to draft a comment we could post on our blog reacting to this news? TDC has often written about the dangers of using tax dollars to bribe companies to move around; we had facts at our fingertips.
3. I read this email on my iPhone in the morning, as I was on a plane to our office in Washington, DC. I realized that if we moved fast enough and connected the peg to employee ownership, it could be placed as an opinion piece in a newspaper, preferably in Wisconsin for maximum impact. On the tarmac, I emailed my colleague Sarah Stranahan to see if she could do a draft. The plane took off. By the time it landed, Sarah had agreed to push aside her other work and tackle it.
4. By 6 p.m. I had a draft in hand, 700 words (footnoted, to help our internal fact-checkers). I reworked it, interjecting more of the voice of daily opinion writing, which is plainspoken even as it uses catchy sentences. For example, Sarah developed the powerful analysis that using $3 billion to create 3,000 jobs worked out to $1 million per job. I added, “Who wouldn’t be willing to create one job if handed a million dollars?” With the piece now 800 words, I sent it off to our communication team at 8 p.m.
5. Tuesday morning, researcher Kaylee Thornley did a fact check, and senior communications associate Erin Kesler edited the piece down to 600 words (max for some papers) and pitched it to the Journal Sentinel and on a non-exclusive basis to the Capital Times.
6. The editor noted they rarely ran opinion pieces by people outside Wisconsin, but the angle was so new, and important, she would run it. An “angle” is your particular take on something — a fresh viewpoint that says something no one else has said. Our angle: employee ownership is a better, cheaper way to do economic development. We cited the work of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center, which has retained or created 15,000 jobs at a cost of just $772 per job. We noted other states have similar centers, and said: “Every state ought to have one.”
“We cited the work of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center, which has retained or created 15,000 jobs at a cost of just $772 per job. We noted other states have similar centers, and said: “Every state ought to have one.”
So here are six lessons in publishing an op-ed: Watch for news hooks. Act fast. Use colorful sentences. Have a fresh angle. Don’t just talk about employee ownership; connect it to things people care about — prudent use of tax dollars, helping the local economy, creating economic stability for ordinary people. Bring home your point with an action ask. Ours was: every state ought to have an employee ownership center.