Fireside / July 2016

Clay Risen Shares Candid Insights into NYT Op-Ed

Last week, the Richmond PRSA hosted a Q&A with Clay Risen, senior staff editor of The New York Times op-ed page. For over an hour, Risen walked us through the ins and outs of the op-ed department at The New York Times, which included his daily responsibilities and what it takes to successfully get an op-ed pitch in front of the staff.


If your client has ambitions of getting an op-ed featured in The New York Times, here a few tips to consider from the senior staff editor:

The generic New York Times op-ed email inbox isn’t the best place to land your pitch

According to Risen, the New York Times op-ed email inbox receives about 500 emails daily, all of which are reviewed by a clerk. Half of those emails are spam, while the other half are actually aimed at a specific person. Between the emails that inundate the generic op-ed inbox and the ones that reach Risen directly, he only reads about 40 pitches a day. Thus, it’s important to bypass the generic op-ed inbox and reach out to the editors directly.

Worn out opinions and misused historical references aren’t going to cut it

With Risen only reviewing 40 pitches a day, most of which are rejected, it’s imperative that your pitch stand out. As with any publication, you have to know what the editor is looking for. Risen stated that he’s looking for interesting ideas and perspectives, timeliness and diverse points of view from a variety of regions. More specifically, he explained that he would like to see op-eds that explore issues in one region that are relatable to everyone, no matter where they are located. On the other hand, you can guarantee that a pitch clothed in worn out opinions about the latest happenings in politics won’t get you very far.

Simply passing an idea along for an op-ed can be best

When it comes whether or not you should send an initial draft of an op-ed or just an idea, most of the time doing the latter can work in your favor. Considering that Risen is regularly swamped with emails, he stated that sending along a shorter pitch or passing along an idea is a great start when you don’t have a complete op-ed. You’ll be happy to know that Risen makes it a point to respond to all of the pitches that he carefully reviews by the end of the day. According to Risen, you can feel free to follow up once via email if you don’t hear back.

Making the editor’s job easier will always get you the win

Our very own, Andrea Maclean, submitted a question to Risen that he answered during the email/ audience portion of the Q&A. The question was about Risen’s likes and dislikes when it comes to working with PR professionals. Risen stated that he appreciates when a publicist clearly communicates what they have to offer from a client, which makes his job easier when it comes to finding the appropriate source for an op-ed. Furthermore, toward the top of his list of dislikes were generic pitches along with cliché phrases and casual language used in professional writing.

Overall, Risen’s responses to the Q&A provided everyone with a candid look into his world as the senior staff editor of the New York Times op-ed page. Certainly, you can apply these tips when pitching your next op-ed to this world class media outlet.