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The OpEd Project seminar a smash success at Medill Chicago

Medill’s Chicago newsroom burst with the brainpower and creative energy of more than two dozen participants in The OpEd Project core seminar on Jan. 15.

For the third time since June 2011, Medill partnered with the New York-based non-profit initiative to help experts in various fields explore specific avenues to share knowledge in a variety of public platforms.

The seminar, taught by author and journalist Deborah Siegel and myself, centered on thought leadership training and contributions to the public conversation. Those effective arenas of influence range from digital and print opinion pieces to keynotes, panel discussions, testimony, committee work and beyond.

Participants examined the critical question: Why does my expertise matter to the world?

It was about so much more than writing opinion. It was about expanding public debate with the focus on urging participation from women, minorities and underrepresented ideas. 

“When I was first approached about registering for the workshop, I was very skeptical,” said Kimberly Cornwell, associate director of career services at Medill. “‘I’m not a journalist—this seminar doesn’t apply to me,’ I thought. I was wrong.”

I understand that reaction as I have been assisting in the seminars in Chicago and elsewhere since last June. Though I have been writing editorials, columns, features and books for more than 30 years, (and teaching at Medill since 1996), it is The OpEd Project that has taught me to claim, manage and amplify the power of my own voice and influence.

Journalist and author Catherine Orenstein founded The OpEd Project in 2008 as a response to the dearth of women and minority voices in mainstream media opinion pages. At the time, women wrote approximately 5-15 percent of opinion pieces in this country. In the first week of December 2011, a byline count of the New York Times showed that 32 percent of opinion pieces were written by women, compared with 36 percent in the Huffington Post and 28 percent in the Wall Street Journal.

The goal of the program is to reach a tipping point for equity, fairness and gender participation in influential opinion formats.

More than 4,000 women and hundreds of men have gone through the programs and seminars offered in cities across the country. More than 30 percent of participants have published in high-profile outlets such as The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, CNN.com, PBS.org, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor and scores more.  

In slightly more than three years, the scope of The OpEd Project has expanded rapidly to include fellowships at universities such as Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Fordham and Emory, as well as workshops, studios and customized programs for think tanks and non-profits.

Yoonj Kim, the Chicago OpEd Project intern and Medill senior set to graduate in 2012, believes that her experience has been valuable.

“Interning for the OpEd Project has opened so many doors for me, in both professional and personal ways,” Kim said.“The support network you have through the project is remarkable, from the initial encouragement from peers and mentors to the editors you come into contact with.” Kim, whose editorial following Kim Jong Il’s death was featured on Christmas Day in the Chicago Tribune, added, “My recent success in the Chicago Tribune was hugely due to the project, which had previously put me in touch with its opinion editor. The leaders aren't the only people you connect with – the participants are extraordinary as well.”

The OpEd Project core seminar returns to Medill’s Chicago newsroom April 28 for an encore session.