Chapter 14. The Relevance of Relevance: Why and How I Write Op-eds
John Llewellyn is an Associate Professor of Communication at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA. He has also taught in London and New Zealand. Research interests include rhetorical criticism, organizational communication, public relations/crisis communication, and rumor/urban legends. Before joining the academy, Llewellyn worked for a decade in state and local government where he coordinated public participation in environmental protection programs, directed media relations and public information efforts, and wrote speeches for cabinet secretaries. He has published in Society, American Communication Journal, and Public Relations Quarterly. Scholarly articles and chapters address corporate social responsibility, organizational ethics, and urban legends, as well as numerous op-ed pieces that apply rhetorical criticism and analysis to issues in the news.
I am no academic “lifer.” I earned my PhD after having a career in communication positions in state and local governments in the American South. In all candor, my earlier career has proven to be a genuine bonus for teaching and research, but an actual handicap in my conformance to the special logic that inhabits campuses and the people who run them.
My pre-doctoral background has everything to do with how and why I write op-eds. This is a term of art that reflects the article’s position “opposite the editorial page.” These 700-word essays are essentially guest editorials; they are sometimes sought by the newspaper but most often they are written as speculative pieces and then offered to the paper. I sometimes think I could place one op-ed a week if I worked at it and varied the targeted outlets. That is the pace of a columnist though, not of a teacher/scholar. For me, op-eds are a satisfying alternative to the teaching and research that occupy the majority of my professional time. I have engaged in this practice for at least a decade, doing as few as one and as many as four in any given year.