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Should newspapers retire the term 'Op-Ed'? No

This appeared in Editor & Publisher Magazine.

With The New York Times “retiring” the term “Op-Ed” because the news industry is changing away from print pages, other publishers and editors may be tempted to also ditch the term to keep up with the Times. But they shouldn’t follow the editors of the Gray Lady in updating the typographical language that readers have understood clearly for years. 

Even if Op-Eds today are not physically opposite the newspaper’s editorial page (which led to the term’s inception), the designation marks the opinion is not one of the paper's points of view and from a guest writer. 

The Times posits the word is inextricably linked to the news industry and not accessible enough for general audiences. 

“Terms like ‘Op-Ed’ are, by their nature, clubby newspaper jargon,” Kathleen Kingsbury, opinion editor at the Times, recently wrote in their pages, announcing the decision to retire the term. 

But this is not true. 

Unlike many other words in our business, such as lede, graf, sidebar, deep background, hed and kicker, the public knows what “Op-Ed” stands for even if it doesn’t know where exactly the word came from. 

It’s also baffling that the Times thinks labelling content as an Op-Ed would make the complex policy or legal issues that drive local and national conversations more difficult to understand. 

One recent Op-Ed — excuse me, guest essay — from the Times had a Flesch reading ease score of 29.4, according to Microsoft Word’s built-in readability analysis.The creator of the test would categorize that grade as somewhere between “difficult” and “very difficult.” Plain English, in his view, has a readability score of at least 60 or higher.

This at least suggests readers can handle words and phrases that may not be accessible to everyone. It seems like they can continue to understand words like Op-Ed. 

After all, it’s plain English at this point. 

Brendan Clarey, 25, is an opinion editor and writer for The Detroit News.

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