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President Obama, The Wall Street Journal and what they mean for op-ed articles in the media

The headline near the top of The Wall Street Journal’s front page was straight to the point: “Obama Mandates Regulation Review.”

However, the item was far from routine. It told readers of this most widely read and influential business publication that on Page A17, they could read an exclusive article by the president about this topic. If they so chose, readers also could turn to a much smaller, less powerful news article written by a staff writer, on Page A3.

The headline on Obama’s article spanned the top of the Journal’s influential Opinion page. “Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System.”

The headline on the news story by Elizabeth Williamson ran across two-thirds of the top of A3 and read, “Obama Launches Rule Review, Pledging to Spur Jobs, Growth.” The article was complete, and offered the context that the president had been in conflict with some business leaders who see his policies as overly-restrictive.

But on the whole, the strategy of announcing a new policy in the media by writing an op-ed article was effective. First, the Journal benefited from the “scoop,” which came directly from the president. The news story certainly was secondary. 

From the Obama Administration's perspective, they were able to express their views directly to an influential, target audience and bypass the filter that all media impose on those they cover.

The New York Times, as it covered the announcement, cited Obama’s article, published in one of the Times' fiercest competitors. “Mr. Obama announced his executive order with a column on the op-ed page in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, in which he called for “the right balance” between free markets and public safeguards against health hazards and commercial abuses like those that gave rise to the financial crisis.”

Publishing an article from the President of the United States is not without precedent. Congressional leaders submit op-eds frequently in the national media to promote their particular agendas or to speak to specific hot-button issues.

Of course, getting an article accepted is not easy. Most media reject submissions that lack widespread appeal, substance or are self-serving. Not everyone will get their work in The Wall Street Journal. But as mainstream media diversify their platforms through their websites, featured blogs and other forms of social media to attract readers, they are likely to give more individuals the opportunity to speak directly to target audiences. No Pennsylvania Avenue address necessary.

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