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I used to work in academic publishing, and part of my job involved helping our authors place articles in the popular media. I'd concur that it's pretty hard for academics to place an article without an 'in' - e.g. having been asked by an editor to contribute, or knowing the editor personally, etc. Unsolicited pieces rarely get published.

What to do if you lack such an 'in'? Well, one thing that makes a big difference is if you have someone acting on your behalf - either an agent or a publicist. Most academics aren't agented, but many have published books. Some publishers (most?) will have a publicist who should be more than happy to use their contacts to place articles by authors on their list, especially if the article somehow relates to the book (however tangentially), so that at the bottom of the article they can insert a plug for the book. Placing such articles is part of a publicist's job. They'll have contacts, they'll (hopefully) have the ear of some editors, and can do a lot of the grunt work of sending emails to editors for you. So I highly recommend engaging with publicists at publishers where you've published books.

If you ever find yourself weighing up which publisher to publish a book with, one thing you should consider is how good their publicity team is. Some places offer virtually nothing; others offer you access to a decent publicist.

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