From The Newsroom: How The Daily decides which op-eds to publish


Kara Peeler/The Daily Northwestern

Arts and Entertainment Editor Rayna Song talks with other editors in the Daily’s newsroom. In this From the Newsroom, we dive into how we decide which opinion pieces to publish.

Lily Nevo, Opinion Editor

In this series, Daily staff members hope to provide more transparency about how we operate. If you would like to submit a question to be answered here, please send an email to Editor in Chief Isabelle Sarraf at [email protected].

The opinion section is the only section of The Daily where anyone affiliated with Northwestern or Evanston can contribute work, and I take great pride in that. It’s a space to amplify diverse perspectives and explore new ideas. But that doesn’t mean the section is a forum for unregulated commentary. Multiple Daily editors vet all op-ed submissions before publication. So how do we decide what to publish?

A note: When I use “we” in this piece, I am referring to Daily policy, but when I use “I,” I am referring to my personal editing style. 

What we publish, and what we don’t

There is no cut-and-dry formula for what we deem worthy to publish, but we do have some basic guidelines. We generally don’t publish pieces fewer than 500 words or greater than 1200 words, though we have made exceptions. If writing a full piece is daunting, I would encourage you to submit a Quick Take. Quick Takes are 200 to 400 word pieces that aim to make the opinion section more accessible by not requiring the time commitment of a full piece. We do not publish pieces from writers with no affiliation to Northwestern and/or Evanston, nor do we publish any facts we cannot verify

I do not publish pieces intended to generate profit. If you would like to advertise an event or publicize your company’s work, an ad would be a more appropriate medium for such a message.

I am also wary of publishing pieces from those who hold positions of institutional power or those who already have platforms to disseminate a message. The opinion section is a powerful platform; I would like to ensure it is used to amplify the voices of those who are not necessarily represented in other spaces, rather than give more space to those who already have it. I do not feel comfortable allowing a person in power, particularly of an organization that has previously caused harm to students on campus, to use this section as a medium to justify their status. 

An opinion piece is not a news release. If you are the leader of an organization and would like to announce or justify any changes you seek to make, there are other spaces — social media, email, etc. — for you to do this. 

Finally, we do not publish pieces we deem offensive. Though the line between hate speech and free speech continues to be blurry and we always evaluate pieces on a case-by-case basis, I have come to broadly define hate speech as expression that diminishes an identity-based group or a person holding a specific identity from a protected class. To clarify, an identity in this context is something a person cannot change. To belong to a student organization, to study a certain subject or even to affiliate with a certain political party are not identities protected from criticism. 

These guidelines may shift from quarter to quarter as the makeup of our editorial board changes. In other words, while a piece may be published once, that does not mean a similar piece would be published in another quarter. Furthermore, just because The Daily published your piece once does not mean we will publish every piece you submit in the future. 

The op-ed editing process

All opinion pieces still go through The Daily’s regular chain of three to six editors, and opinion pieces are fact checked like any other reported story. We will not publish any statistic or claim we cannot verify, regardless of the piece’s classification as an “opinion.” Those of us on the opinion desk do our best to make it clear when we editorialize, as opposed to when we cite evidence.  

Opinion pieces are unlike reported stories in that we find subjectivity valuable and consider voice often inseparable from an argument itself. We prioritize preserving the writer’s voice when we edit op-eds and we never edit the content of the argument itself. Instead, we edit to ensure that the argument is made in the most effective way possible, with clear syntax and accurate supporting evidence. 

Anonymous writing

One of the most frequent questions I receive with regards to publishing an opinion piece is whether writers can publish anonymously. To be clear: The Daily does not publish anonymous op-eds. While we understand why writers might seek privacy this way, writers must also be accountable to the messages they amplify. 

We also do not allow Daily staffers to report for other desks in the same quarter they write for opinion. If we were to allow anonymous pieces, then it would not be possible to tell whether a Daily staffer wrote the piece. 

We do, however, publish letters to the editor on behalf of a group. Groups are a fixed body that remain accountable for their mission, even if the individuals behind the letter are unknown to readers. Group letters do not necessarily need to include the names of those who contributed to the letter. 

Attaching your name to a piece can be scary, but it can also be a great exercise in argumentative writing and an incredible moment of reclamation. There is power in telling your story, and we are grateful to the contributors who continue to share theirs. 

If you would like to submit an op-ed to The Daily’s opinion section, email your piece to [email protected].

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lilynevo

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