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EDITORIAL: Op-Eds 101

A variety of opinions makes for a lively op-ed section.
A variety of opinions makes for a lively op-ed section.

This just your semi-annual reminder of what an op-ed piece is in The Telegram, and what it isn’t.

Why tell you about this now?

Well, because of the length and detailed comments by former federal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould about pressure to have her change a decision about how SNC-Lavalin would be prosecuted for bribery allegations.

One small snippet singled out newspaper op-edits as an area that federal politicians might try to manipulate.

Here is Wilson-Raybould, talking about her chief of staff, Jessica Prince, relaying comments from Katie Telford from the prime minister’s office: “She was like ‘if Jody is nervous, we would of course line up all kinds of people to write op-eds saying that what she is doing is proper.’”

Now, there are a variety of op-eds.

Sometimes it’s just a simple carpet-bombing of editorial pages across North America, like this one: “Dear Editors: If you have room in your editorial pages or Letters to the Editor, your readers may like to know more about the importance of screening for colorectal cancer during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March …”

Sometimes, it’s groups like the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, whose president once pointed out in an annual report, “It’s likely you read one of our many Op-Eds in newspapers such as the Globe and Mail, the National Post or any of Atlantic Canada’s influential dailies. … (O)ur message is reaching millions of Canadians, and they are responding.”

Other times, it’s more targeted: the Muskrat Falls inquiry has had testimony and exhibits about op-eds written to support the project, along with the idea of dealing with public concerns by, “Convinc(ing) our ‘silent supporters’ to speak out for the project.”

To be clear, the pieces that appear on this page include: columns, which are written by the columnists whose face appears on them, and which contain the opinions of the columnists themselves; letters to the editor, which are the opinions of the writers who submitted those letters; op-ed pieces, which are submitted like letters to the editor, and carry a longer explanation of the writer’s particular expertise; and unsigned editorials, which are written by a member of the newspaper’s staff, and represent the position of the newspaper itself, rather than the writer. (If editorials were the opinion of the writer, they’d probably regularly include something like, “This critical position at the newspaper is deserving of a far greater level of compensation than is currently…” But we digress.)

The thing about op-eds, though, is that the paper doesn’t pay for them, and isn’t paid to put them in, either. We ride herd on them just as we do with letters to the editor, running ones on similar topics only if they have something new to add. The prime minister’s office might “line up” op-ed writers somewhere: they won’t be lining up our op-ed space.

Period.

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