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The Pros and Cons of Timeliness

by Shari Graydon

Partnering with universities is one of the main strategies Informed Opinions is pursuing to support knowledgeable women in contributing their ideas and analysis to the media. So last summer, I pitched an op ed to the editor of University Affairs magazine, published by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, which reaches close to 28,000 university administrators and faculty with every issue. I had just finished analyzing our monitoring data and discovered that scholars constituted the largest single profession represented among op ed contributors in the six daily papers we looked at. But – not surprisingly – women were as under-represented in the scholar category as they were elsewhere.

I wrote a piece that began by comparing my experience writing my master’s thesis (few readers, little short term impact beyond the granting – or not – of my degree) to the simultaneous experience I had writing a weekly column for The Vancouver Sun (potentially 200,000 readers and – depending on the topic – quite possibly an immediate impact).

I submitted my piece in August, and was told that since the magazine only publishes ten times a year, and has only one or two spots for guest commentary, it might not appear till October. Yesterday, two months after that, my piece finally appeared. Although disappointed by the delay, I’m delighted that my words have now been published in a vehicle read by thousands of people who are part of a key audience I’d like to reach.

From the perspective of the editor of University Affairs, although my piece was relevant to the AUCC’s readers, it wasn’t tied to anything that was time-sensitive. As a result, delaying its publication didn’t make it less relevant, and she was able to use it months after I wrote it.

Generally when people are writing for a daily newspaper, timeliness is more of an issue: if there isn’t a good reason for an editor to publish your piece this week or next week, she might not publish it ever. Because every week she gets new submissions that are tied to a recent, current or upcoming story. So timeliness can be both friend and foe, depending on the publication. Something to keep in mind…


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