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2013-11-04 Steve Gardiner An editorial is not venting

Brian stormed into my journalism classroom, slamming some papers down on my desk.

“I am sick and tired of the police parking their cars on the road leading to the school,” he said. “They are out to get high school kids. It's harassment.”


His anger was apparent in both his actions and in the length of the opinion article he had written.


Normally a quality sports reporter, Brian's anger had pushed him into the world of editorial writing, and like many beginning reporters, he assumed that his opinion was all he needed. If he threw enough rage at a topic, surely readers would understand his point and take his side.


But it doesn't work that way. Writing an editorial is not venting. It is not blogging. It is not texting or tweeting. Too many new student reporters, and perhaps newspaper readers as well, believe that the purpose of an editorial is to criticize someone or something and the louder the criticism, the better the editorial.


In truth, criticism is one purpose of editorial writing, but not the only one, and not even the most common reason for writing an opinion piece. More often, editorials explain, endorse, interpret, recommend, persuade, and far more often that most people realize, praise.


Usually a student reporter, when he first hears this, responds by saying, “But this is my opinion and this is an opinion article.” Yes, and to a degree that is correct, but the foundation of an editorial is informed opinion. Look at any respected newspaper and read the editorials. The writer will include quotations from multiple interviews, statistics from in-depth research, and information from authoritative sources. Then he works in his opinion (or more accurately, the opinion of the editorial board of the newspaper). The facts come first and inform the opinion.


I read Brian's article. Clearly he had thought a lot about it, and in doing so, his anger had grown and spilled onto the page in front of me. When I finished reading it, I asked him what was missing.


“Nothing,” he said. “I worked on it all night and included everything.”


“You have been thorough, but not thorough enough. If we are going to print this in the school newspaper, you need to do one more thing.”


“What's that?”


“Call the police department and ask them why the officers are parked in that location. Find out whose decision it was and what they hope to accomplish by being there. If we don't know that, we don't have informed opinion, and we can't run this piece.”


Brian wasn't happy. He wanted to blast the police department, and he wanted to hit them hard. I told him to make the call, and he did.


He came back in the afternoon and said, “You know that editorial I gave you this morning?”




“Can I get it back? I talked with the police, and they are parking there because the people who live in the housing development behind the school have been speeding, and they want to protect students on the way to school.”


An editorial is not venting. It is better to be informed before making an opinion.

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