Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Nobody Knows The Topic Selection Troubles I've Seen

I write three op-eds a week. Well, usually. If I'm sick or traveling it may just be two. But usually three. Call it 150 a year. Right now, I write them at/for/under the label of The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.

My theory of topic selection goes something like this:

  1. It has to be "in the news cycle." That is, it has to riff on something that I'm seeing in the news right now and expect to remain in the news for at least a few days so that people aren't bored with it (or forgetting about it) by the time a newspaper decides to run the piece.
  2. It has to be at least mildly controversial. Nobody wants to read an op-ed about an issue that pretty much everyone agrees on. I'm not going to spend 500 words explaining that lead is bad for kids and they shouldn't eat it. If I'm writing about lead being bad for kids, it's going to be for or against some approach to "the lead problem" that opinions differ on.
  3. It has to be something I can write about from a libertarian perspective, even if I don't specifically use the l-word in delivering that perspective.
One thing I don't worry about too much is whether or not the topic is, well, "taboo." But since one of my objectives is to get those op-eds picked up by mainstream newspapers and non-libertarian political publications, I guess maybe I should.

For example, in 2015, I wrote a piece on circumcision. OK, not precisely on circumcision -- it had more to do with matters of medical and parental consent in general -- but circumcision was pretty central to it.

Not a single newspaper ran that piece. It just sort of disappeared into the ether.

I thought it was a damn good piece, too -- great news hook, poignant situation, cause that many readers would find compelling. Most of the time my stuff gets grabbed by at least one or two newspapers on my worst writing days and this felt like one of my better outings. But editors wouldn't touch it.

Today's Garrison op-ed is also on circumcision. I wonder if it will do any better than the last one.

I'm not exactly an "intactivist." My writing on the subject constitutes a fraction of one percent of my overall op-ed output. It's not like I spend my time wandering around the house pining for my lost foreskin. But it's sad that the issue isn't taken up in the public square with any ... endurance.

When selecting topics for op-eds, part of the calculation has to be "will this get published so that people can read it?" I disregard that part of the calculation at my peril. But yes, sometimes I do disregard it and just hope for the best.

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