Editorials Learning Objectives Explain the importance of editorials in contributing to community conversation Write editorials that explain, evaluate or persuade Understand the role of editorial cartoons Editorials Editorial topics like cafeteria food and school spirit seldom raise an eyebrow, let alone a voice. But you can make a difference by discussing important issues. You will learn how editorials can play a vital role in your school community. Weighing Opinions An editorial is an article that states the newspaper‟s ideas on an issue. These ideas are presented as opinions. You probably haven‟t given much thought to who writes the anonymous opinions in your local paper. Some are described as opinion leaders, and others are accurately called “publisher‟s mouthpieces.” Today, however, most editorial writers are hired not for their willingness to parrot the view‟s of the paper‟s owner but for their education and experience. These writers try to make sense out of complex, and sometimes controversial, issues. Weighing Opinions cont. The editorial page—typically, the second page of a four-page high school newspaper— includes editorials, columns, opinion articles, reviews and cartoons. The newspaper‟s masthead—a statement providing the details of publication—appears on this page as well. Newspapers of six or eight pages often offer what is known as an op-ed page—literally, the page opposite the editorial page. The op- ed page contains more of the same features you will find on the editorial page. Weighing Opinions cont. High school newspaper editorials today offer opinions on a broad range of issues. Student editors weigh opinions on topics that were once rarely discussed, from school tardiness to sexually transmitted diseases. Because editorials state the newspaper‟s position on controversial issues, many high school newspapers have an editorial board. The editorial board, which usually consists of top editors, decides on a plan for each editorial. One student is then selected to research and write the actual article. Editorials are usually unsigned, because they represent the newspaper‟s opinion, not the writer‟s. Weighing Opinions cont. Of course, the process of deciding the newspaper‟s positions on controversial matters can include long and heated debates. Staffs can schedule conferences during which the staff members discuss what is to be written about, decide the newspaper‟s position on various topics, and make assignments. One useful strategy in the conferences is brainstorming, a technique in which participants suspend critical judgment as they generate as many ideas as possible. Weighing Opinions cont. Brainstorming, or free association, often helps individuals engaged in group participation to be more creative than they would be as individuals. The process is thus useful in helping people generate ideas for editorials and in suggesting approaches to specific topics. The primary source of materials for editorials, though, is the daily lives of students in your school. Students interact with the faculty, the administration and one another in many ways. That interaction affects academic pursuits, extracurricular activities, vocational training and lives of the students outside school. Furthermore, national and international issues are of concern to the well-informed student. Weighing Opinions cont. Remember, the newspaper is the voice of the community, and the editorials are the voice of the newspaper. This voice can inform readers, stimulate thinking, mold opinion and occasionally move people to action. Ask yourself, Would I write an editorial if it were only read and believed by one person? What if that one person were the principal of the school? Writing Editorials To be worthy of print space or broadcast time, an editorial needs to tell the reader something that would not be discussed in a straight news story. Like a news story, though, an editorial requires careful research. The newspaper or broadcast station‟s reputation is staked on the accuracy of the supporting material in each editorial. Writing Editorials cont. Generally, you should organize an editorial in four steps: 1. State the subject and your position on the subject in the introduction. 2. Discuss opposing points of view. 3. Prove your position with supporting details. 4. Draw a conclusion. Writing Editorials cont. These four parts do not have a set order. The editorial, for example, may begin with the conclusion. Often the steps are woven together. No matter how the steps are taken, the key is to make the editorial both logical and compelling. Editorials can have many purposes—from defending actions to praising people to simply entertaining readers. Three of the most common purposes are explaining, evaluating and persuading. Of course, any editorial can serve more than one purpose. Editorials That Explain Editorials that explain are somewhat like expository essays. They attempt to interpret or inform rather than to argue a point of view. The only expression of opinion comes in the interpretation of the facts. These editorials explain topics such as the elimination of an intramural program, a change in the grading system or the sudden departure of a faculty member. Editorials that explain are most effective when they describe what has taken place, give a detailed explanation of the causes, and highlight the importance of the topic. Editorials That Explain cont. The following excerpt, taken from the Scout at Overland High School in Aurora, Colorado, is part of a guest editorial written by police officer Steve Cox. In this editorial, Cox explains why police bust parties: Have you ever wondered why the police show up at your party and break it up? Have you ever been at a party with alcohol or drugs? How about a party where you have 100-200 people there? Have you ever had to pay a “door” charge to get into a party? As high school students, most of you can personally relate to one of the above questions. Those of you who don‟t have first- hand experience probably know someone that has. In fact, some of you may have been charged with liquor possession, disorderly conduct, trespassing, disturbing the peace or DUI. Why do police worry about this? Nine times out of ten, the police respond to a party because someone in the neighborhood or community has called in a complaint. Very seldom do we just drive by and see a party. Editorials That Evaluate Editorials that evaluate focus on actions or situations that the editors view as being wrong or in need of improvement. The criticism in these editorials should always be constructive, though. When writing these, be sure to emphasize anything positive about what you are criticizing, or your readers will no longer trust you. Furthermore, you have a responsibility to offer alternative solutions or courses of action. Editorials That Evaluate cont. The following excerpt, from an editorial in the Crest) the paper at Coronado High School in Lubbock, Texas). Comments on the state of school restrooms: It grabs you. It permeates your clothes. It stinks. The problem? School restrooms. Stench hangs heavy in the air and seeps from cracks and crevices where brown and black slime have a heyday. Take a close look. Some areas of the floor are constantly wet. Slow leaks from the fixtures provide a soggy, sticky film that coats the corners and seeps on the floors where the caulking is cracked. Oh sure, the restrooms are swept daily, their trash emptied. This procedure, timed several days within the past month, took an average of 2 minutes and four seconds each, start to finish. But a quick sweep won‟t cut it; this is a serious job screaming for Mr. Clean. So wake up and smell the restrooms. (You can‟t miss „em.) Editorials That Persuade Generally, editorials that persuade offer specific solutions to a perceived problem. Unlike editorials that evaluate, they expect immediate action rather than the achievement of a general or long-term objective. A persuasive editorial can provide leadership in bringing about changes in school policy or in student behavior. Furthermore, when the school community is embroiled in controversy, editorials that persuade offer the community to suggest compromise solutions. Editorials That Persuade cont. This excerpt from an editorial in the Lance, the paper at Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska. The writer argues that the school candy store should be reopened: If a student is hungry, he will buy food…even from a vending machine. This year, students are able to purchase various products from the vending machines located in the cafeteria. Many people hoped the machines would reduce stress caused by clubs using the candy store. However, the Lance believes the candy store should be utilized again because too many problems are created due to the vending machines and to the questions raised by the new distribution system… The administration closed the candy store due to congestion and uncleanliness…. This year, numerous cafeteria messes from the vending machines have resulted in punishment for the entire school. When a select few cause problems, it is unfair to punish everyone. No one can buy anything if the machines are turned off, and clubs won‟t receive money when the food is not sold. Editorials That Persuade cont. The clubs which used the candy store last year are to be given the same monetary amount from the vending machines‟ proceeds. Profits from the past three years were averaged for each organization. This average is the amount to be given to the group. Some organizations that didn‟t sell candy last year have received money, and as a result reduced the funds which were allocated to other clubs… The candy store allows students to take responsibility for themselves and organizations. Individuals must sacrifice their open mods and work for the funds. Students‟ efforts result in visible rewards. They can see the money their club is accumulating and take an active role in the process… Although complications existed when the store was used, the Lance believes the candy stores should be reopened. The vending machines have not solved any problems; actually they have only produced additional negative situations. Uncleanliness and punishment have replaced school spirit and club cooperation. That‟s definitely not a fair trade. Activity Imagine that you have just learned that your school is going to require uniforms for all students. Consider the following statements. The principal explains, “What we want is a learning environment, not a fashion show,” The police chief comments, “These school uniforms will reduce violence on campus.” A parent notes, “The social pressure to have designer clothes was too much.” And a student says, “I dress to please myself, not to please others.” Write a brief, 200-word editorial in which you support or criticize the new school policy. Involving Readers As was explained earlier, a newspaper editorial staff has the responsibility to create community conversation. In order for readers to have their turn to speak, newspapers provide space for dialogue on current topics of concern. Readers are given their voices in two ways: in letters to the editor and in opinion features. Letters to the Editor Most readers like reading letters to the editor, but they must be encouraged to write. If you want to strengthen this part of the editorial pages, you have to ask readers to respond. Furthermore, you must be willing to print critical, as well as complimentary, letters. Finally, to receive vital, well-written letters, you must publish vital, well-written editorials. Letters to the Editor cont. Editors have a tremendous incentive to solicit responses for their opinion pages. Carefully crafted letters from readers can stimulate worthwhile dialogues on important topics. Letters to the Editor cont. Here are seven suggestions for generating more letters to the editor: 1. Set up rules, and follow them. 2. Focus on school issues. 3. Identify letter writers. 4. Encourage serious discussion. 5. Verify all information. 6. Run letters promptly. 7. Run as many letters as possible. Opinion Features In its first editorial in 1982, USA Today wrote of its challenge to provide a daily forum for the free exchange of opinions. The editorial stated: “Our goal: to offer an opinion page where people with diverse points of view can help establish, amid the chaos of personal agendas, a national agenda for America. For those who listen only to what they already believe speak only to themselves.” Opinion Features cont. In its attempt to reach that goal, USA Today includes a “Voices” feature on its opinion pages. Many college and high school papers have borrowed the idea and typically present five responses to a question. Many high school newspapers have created their own versions of USA Today’s “Voices” feature. Example From the January 27, 2000 issue of The Eagle (Chadron State College, Nebr.). Voices: What are your weekly expenses and where do you spend most of your money? Most students live on a limited budget and don‟t realize where their money is going. Organization of your finances is the key to a healthy financial future and it begins with noticing where the money you spend is going. Zach Even, Mary Heidi Todd, Jon Jenifer Reisner, Sophomore Tewahade, Freshman Schwaderer, Junior Freshman Sophomore “All I‟ve spent “Food, gas “ Where I spend money on lately “Tuition and and Wal- “Gwen, Gwen, my money is on is school, my books are Mart.” Gwen! apartment bills, deer-damaged killing me so I Enough said.” but it is well truck and a hope I will get worth it.” fishing license. a scholarship. Activity Create your own “Voices feature. Select several of your classmates to interview on a question that you believe is important to your school community. Choosing Cartoons Cartoons can do more than enrich popular culture and make us laugh. Editorial cartoons can be a powerful form of expression. They can grab the attention of readers in a single glance. Unfortunately, however, they are not always understood. One study reported in Journalism Quarterly revealed an overwhelming failure of nationally syndicated cartoons to get their message across. Most interpretations offered by readers were not at all what the cartoonist intended. Choosing Cartoons cont. Your goal in drawing or selecting editorial cartoons is to make sure that your readers get the intended message. An effective way to achieve this goal is to have a cartoon reinforce a message that is contained in an accompanying editorial. In addition to reinforcing editorial messages, cartoons should also be well drawn. Source Schaffer, James, Randall McCutcheon and Kathryn T. Stofer. Journalism Matters. Lincolnwood: Contemporary, 2001.
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