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Should newspapers retire the term 'Op-Ed'? Yes

This appeared in Editor & Publisher Magazine.

Although change can be difficult, The New York Times’ decision to retire the term “Op-Ed” promotes clear communication with a new generation of readers and is a step which other newspapers should consider taking. Originally derived from the piece’s location opposite the editorial in a newspaper, the designation “Op-Ed” no longer makes intuitive sense to readers who increasingly look to digital platforms for their news. To be honest, I had to Google the meaning of “Op-Ed” for this essay.

Data from a Pew Research Center survey in 2020 shows that more than half of Americans prefer to get their news on a digital platform, compared to only 5 percent who prefer print. Replacing “Op-Ed” with the more readily understood “Guest Essay” adopted by the Times will reduce the need for this type of explanation. In an era of fake news, alleged fake news, click bait and confusion, anything that increases clarity should be welcomed. 

Changing this term also furthers the Op-Ed’s purpose of presenting viewpoints different from the newspaper’s official position. According to media historian Michael Socolow, the modern Op-Ed’s architect, John Oakes, devised the idea because he believed newspapers have a social responsibility to act independently and invite dissent. This can only be accomplished if readers understand that Op-Eds are written without the censorship of a paper’s primary editorial board. A term such as “Guest Essay” would help audiences quickly perceive this distinction. 

For the sake of readability, it makes sense for newspapers to start replacing the term “Op-Ed” in their publications. In this process, however, it is unlikely that a one-size-fits-all solution will be most effective. For small town newspapers still relying primarily on hard copy circulation, such a change may not be necessary for years. Ultimately, this decision is, and should be, left up to individual publications. Still, as the epicenter of the news industry shifts online, it would benefit newspapers to consider any adaptations that may help them succeed long-term. 

Grace Snell, 20, is a junior at Berry College in Rome, Ga., majoring in digital storytelling with minors in German and studio art.

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