14 Oct 2009 [ Prev | Next ]

Editorials

The editorial persuades, informs, and/or entertains. Unlike news features, an editorial does have a point of view. (See the glossary entry for editorial.)

That point of view is informed. It is not unfair to the opposition, and it sources its claims just as carefully as a news article.

A lot of editorial writers try to get by on their writing or their outrage, and not on their reporting. That just doesn't work. You've got to have facts. In an article, you use them to inform. In an editorial, you use facts to persuade. --Michael Gartner, Ames (Ia.) Daily Tribune (See more tips from Poynter)

The lead editorial in a newspaper is usually an unsigned essay, on page two (on the back of the front page).  It represents the opinion of the editorial board on an important current issue. The assumption is that the reader has just read this paper's front-page news story on this issue, and is now ready to engage with educated opinions.

Usually on page 3, the "Op-ed" page, we find a guest editorial. "Op-ed" is so named because "opposite" means "on the other side of the page" -- the point of view of that editorial may agree with or disagree with the lead editorial, or it may be on a completely different subject.

Tips for Writing Editorials

Write tight. Make a single point, in 300 words. (Guest editorials, written by an invited expert, can tackle a more complex subject, and may be 800 or even longer. The editorial page editor will work with a submission, helping the writer make his or her case with precise, snappy, expressive phrasing.)
  • Write short, journalism-style paragraphs -- two or three sentences, not the page-long monsters you construct for academic papers.
  • Start with your main point.
  • Avoid "There are many ways that X has been important in recent weeks. One such way is Y." 
    Instead, try "X forced itself upon us for the third time this month, when Y happened."
  • Finish strong. Don't just repeat your thesis -- bring the reader somewhere.
Pick a topic that emerges from the news. (That is, your paper is already running a news article on this topic, and you are adding your opinion to the coverage.)

Avoid vague references to "some people say" or "research shows." Name names. Interview sources yourself.
  • If you're writing about a national issue, you probably won't get a quote from President Obama.
  • You might, however, get a quote from a member of the University Democrats or the College Republicans -- there are SHU chapters of both on Facebook.

Presume that your opponent has good reasons for disagreeing with you. Talk to people on the other side, and include some of their eloquent, well-argued points. Carefully and respectfully explain why your position is nevertheless more accurate (or ethical, or practical, or inspirational, or whatever).
  • Avoid trying to make your opinion seem stronger by distorting the other side, either through exaggeration ("Animal rights groups would rather millions of people from cancer than have one animal die during a scientific experiment") or by using unflattering labels ("nicotine addicts who oppose my right to breathe fresh air..." "reactionary tea-baggers whose pathetic world-view is threatened by Obama's heroic economic vision..." ).
  • Making "the other side" look evil or stupid may fool people who don't know what you are talking about, but people who do know something about the subject can (and will) write a letter to the editor correcting your misrepresentations.

Don't think of your goal as picking a fight with people who enrage you. Instead, try swaying the opinion of a reasonable person who sees the merits of both sides.

Write for something specific (not just against something)

Avoid simply listing complaints, or attacking a silent opponent with a series of aggressive questions that you have no intention of researching. 
Why is the salad bar so expensive this year? For the past several years, the cost of a large salad has gone up 10 cents each fall. This year, it jumped almost a dollar.  Is a salad really worth $3? For just a little more, I could get a hot meal. Why are our food prices so unfair?
Whine, whine, whine! Anybody can churn out a list of complaints against topic X.  It's another thing entirely to come up with a solution, and then make a public statement in its favor.

So, instead of just whining about the high price of a salad, I might instead contact the dining services, and actually ask why the price went up. I might hear the manager tell me that customers had frequently requested more chicken salad and other expensive meat dishes.  My editorial becomes an opportunity to inform, as I explain the reason for the price increase, and make a sensible suggestion -- $2.00 greens-only option.

Examples
(Two from my blog, one from an online newspaper. Feel free to comment if you wish.)

Additional Readings

A great series from Poynter Online (a craft-centered journalism education website)

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22 Comments

Jessie Krehlik said:

Are we supposed to just find an editorial online to blog about or are you going to provide one for us?

Here you go, Jessie. I couldn't find an online "How to write an Editorial" that I liked, so I ended up writing this one.

Josie Rush said:
Jeanine O'Neal said:
Dianna Griffin said:

April, I tried commenting on your blog, but it denied me haha. Anyways, here is what I wrote...

I believe that editorials can be entertaining as well. It can be fun to state your opinion about something as long as you have credible facts to back it up. It's interesting to see how many views there are on the definition of an editorial. Yours has been the most positive, and I believe that is probably the best way to think about it considering that an editorial is typically given a negative connotation.

Katie Vann said:

Damage Can Be Done

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