The Major Newspaper That Rewrote Someone Else’s Op-Ed

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 29, 2013 – 6:02 AM

I received an email from Australia-based reader Tim Horan about an op-ed piece he submitted to the Sydney Morning Herald, one of his nation’s most-read newspapers.

Tim works for the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia, an advocacy group that represents the interests of shooters (the group supports much stricter gun safety laws than the National Rifle Association.)

He writes:

“Obviously every newspaper around the world retains editorial control and can make changes. Usually this is done where something is incorrect, (due to) poor writing skills, or just due to lack of space. Yesterday, the large national organization I work for sent an op-ed to one of Australia’s largest newspapers. They came back to us and said they would only run it if they could make some changes. 182 entirely new words (original article was just over 600)! Entire new paragraphs, new quotes, new statistics … I was stunned! This was, after all, an opinion piece!”

 

Tim says the changes were dramatic:

“These changes included adding entirely new paragraphs of text, making several tired puns (such as ‘shoot from the hip’) and, possibly worse of all, changing the word ‘firearm’ to ‘weapons’.”

 

 

A monthly magazine produced by the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia

 
I’ve never experienced anything like that; nor have I heard of such dramatic intervention by a newspaper editorials editor. A more typical experience was one I had years ago with the Los Angeles Times, which had agreed to take an op-ed from the group I worked with at the time. The paper’s editor called me to discuss the piece—they had a few words they wanted to tweak and wanted to clarify a few facts. Our phone call enhanced my view of them—they asked reasonable questions, requested few changes, and wanted to make sure we got it right.

I thought there was a chance that Tim’s editorial was poorly written, necessitating the newspaper to insist upon a major overhaul. But it’s not. It looks like every other op-ed you’d see published in a major, big city newspaper. You can see the unedited op-ed here.

In the end, Tim “made the decision that we couldn’t agree to the changes, so we withdrew the article.” Sounds like a smart decision to me.

I asked the Sydney Morning Herald editor who worked on this piece for comment last Monday. She didn’t respond.

What do you think? Have you ever experienced this type of editorial interference? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below.

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Comments (6)

  1. By Chris Syme:

    At least they didn’t publish it without talking to him first. I know that would be unethical, but I am concerned about the way media are going these days to get readers. I am afraid many are becoming more like Gawker and less like the professional platforms of old. It seems news has to be sensational anymore. There are too many unethical platforms out there. I have to read everyone with a filter these days.

  2. By Brad Phillips:

    Chris,

    You’re right about the need to read news with a “filter” these days.

    My old boss Ted Koppel used to have a great answer when people asked him why they should trust him. “You shouldn’t,” he said. “Instead, you should watch me, watch two other hosts, read three newspapers, and draw your own conclusions.” It was great advice then, and even better advice today.

    Thanks for reading,
    Brad

  3. By Brett:

    Great advice from Ted Koppel. Although, in this day and age consolidation of ownership it seems many news outlets end up serving the same corporate master at the end of the day.

    Plus, with the trend of pack journalism, many outlets approach stories from nearly identical angles, even if their presentation differs slightly.

    I guess that means we as consumers just have to be more aware of what news we’re consuming and have to work harder to source out some of those more independent blogs/news sites that may lend additional context/voice to a story.

  4. By Brad Phillips:

    Brett –

    You raise a terrific point. I suppose social media is the great equalizer – if pack journalism is dominating a story, there are always some smart bloggers deconstructing their reporting. The key, I think, is not to simply visit websites that reinforce your preexisting views, but rather those that challenge them.

    Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments!

    Best wishes,
    Brad

  5. By Tim:

    G’day from Australia Brad ! Just wanted to let you know that the Sydney Morning Herald did end up getting back in touch with us, to let us know they would like to run our Opinion Piece, and it appeared in the major Sunday paper last week.

    So a good outcome from our point of view.

  6. By Brad Phillips:

    Tim,

    So glad to hear it! I hope the external pressure you applied, in part through this blog, helped. A good media relations strategy on your part!

    Thanks again,
    Brad

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