Saturday, July 17, 2010

Op-ed Pieces

Call it “shameless self-promotion” if you must. But the op-ed piece I had published in the Albany Times Union this week, “Let's protect N.Y.'s water,” seemed  an appropriate topic for the blog.

How’s that,” you say, “what does a speech to a room full of people, have in common with a short article opposite the editorials in a daily newspaper?

Quite a lot, actually. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that there are similarities, so this seems a good time to examine them.

Op-ed pieces have much in common with speeches, but they are usually shorter, generally between 500 and 800 words, depending on the publication. They appear in the Viewpoints section of the newspaper, they express opinions, rather than being “hard news,” and need to have a clearly defined point of view.

Here’s what they have in common with speeches - both express opinion, and they share a similar structure. That structure consists of three main components:

Introduction – It’s a chance to establish audience identification with the topic. Lose this chance and you are likely to lose your audience as well. In an op-ed, this is called the “lede.”

Main Body – Carries the most important elements of the speech. This section should be developed step by step, in a logical or linear fashion.

This is the place to provide all the supporting information to bolster your arguments. Facts and figures are appropriate here.

Conclusion – This is the place to summarize what has been said. It’s also where to either issue, or restate a call for action. A good closing line is vital for a good speech just as for an op-ed, where this is known as a “kicker.”

As with a speech, research is vital to a good op-ed piece. This is where facts, figures, and other solid information build the case.

Newspapers generally look for certain elements in op-ed pieces:
The piece should focus on an issue of interest to readers of the newspaper. If the piece is related to a story that has already appeared in that publication, it indicates the paper’s editors have already judged that this issue is interesting to the paper’s readers. Another good technique is to develop a theme of topical concern - such as a public holiday, significant anniversaries, or comments on recently issued reports by some professional organization.

The author should have some special expertise or knowledge not generally available to the average reader. The writing should be concise. Concise is a term that varies from publication to publication, but it usually means something ranging between 500 and 800 words. That’s a major difference between a speech and an op-ed. If you’re asked to give a fifteen minute speech, no one will complain if go over that by a minute or two. If the paper’s limit is 650 words, believe it, and use a word counter to make sure.

There’s one other difference - a speaker is invited to give a speech. Most op-ed pieces are unsolicited.

If you can write an op-ed, you can certainly write a speech. The reverse may not be true.

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Declaration

Title: Declaration of Independence
Speech By: The Founders
Date: July 4, 1776
Location: Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Occasion: 13 Colonies Declare Independence

It was meant to be read aloud.

We don’t usually think of the Declaration of Independence as a speech. But it was meant to be read aloud. It was written at a time when being “on the stump” was a literal, not just a figurative exercise. Politicians, itinerant preachers, and those just seeking public attention, would come to a town, stand on an old tree stump near the center of it, and speak as, hopefully, a crowd gathered.

When the Continental Congress had finished editing Jefferson’s draft, it was sent immediately to printer John Dunlap, who produced between 150 and 200 copies, known as the "Dunlap broadsides" for distribution up and down the coast.

The first official public reading was by John Nixon in the yard of Independence Hall on July 8. A copy was sent to General George Washington, who had the Declaration read to his troops in New York City on July 9, with the British forces not far away. After it was read to another crowd of citizens - no longer were they subjects -  in New York City, they tore down a statue of King George mounted on horseback, and melted it down to use the lead to make musket balls.

As a speech, the Declaration of Independence is an enormous success.

The language itself is stirring. Jefferson, who would not be publicly revealed as the main author for another twenty years, launches directly into the point of the matter. “When, in the course of human events,” it starts, with simple but potent language. By the end of that first sentence, he has already stated the whole point of the document - Britain’s former colonies have separated their bonds and now hold an equal station among the powers of the earth.

Then comes what is likely the most famous sentence in all political rhetoric - “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“Truths!”, it asserts. These things are True, it proclaims. And how do you argue with the truth? We are all entitled, of right, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It then launches into what amounts to a 27 count indictment of King George and his parliament. We have discussed in other posts how the use of a repeated phrase serves the same purpose in spoken material as a bullet point does in printed material - it alerts the audience each time a new point is to be made. The technique is used here to a fault.

It sets up the points this way - “To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

Then, the word “He,” followed by the offense charged. It is repeated 13 times. Then the word “For” is substituted for the next nine repetitions, before reverting back to “He” to make the final five points. Interestingly, in colonial times, these 27 points were considered the more important part of the Declaration.

The concluding paragraph returns full circle, to restate what has already been said in the first sentence - that the colonies no longer are such. They are now free and independent states - “these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown.

It concludes with a solemn vow, as befits a declaration of this moment: “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

When you read the Declaration, think of it as a speech. For truly, it spoke volumes to the world. It still does.

Text Posted: U.S.
Length (words): 1329

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom