12 Jul 2009 [ Prev | Next ]


A short article that represents the official collective position of the editorial board of a newspaper. More generally, an editorial is a special genre of journalism that aims to inform, persuade, and/or entertain. 

Like other forms of journalism, an editorial uses quotes, facts, and logic to inform readers, and its content is still covered by ethical principles (see "libel" and "privacy"). Unlike most journalism, an editorial presents an opinion, which means advocating one solution over the solution offered by your political opponents.

Opinions that the editors express on the editorial page should stay there -- they should not affect the news coverage (see "objectivity"). Individual reporters shouldn't slant their stories to reflect or rebut editorial opinions.


Related Terms

  • column: a regularly scheduled article, usually containing an opinion, and often driven by the personality of the author. (Examples: Dave Barry is a humor columnist; Roger Ebert is a film critic; Arianna Huffington and Michael Kinsley are political columnists on the left; Ann Coulter and Charles Krauthammer are on the right. Other forms: celebrity gossip; personal advice.)
  • op-ed (guest editorial): a persuasive essay written by a named, individual author, such as a managing editor or other newspaper employee, or a prominent figure from the community. So named because it traditionally appeared on the page opposite the editorials; it is not necessarily the "opposing view" on of any argument. (Example: a student journalist argues that the VA tech cell phone footage was used insensitively in the relentless media coverage of the assault: "A picture is worth a thousand words, but ethics are priceless.")
  • news analysis: a journalist's thoughtful response to news coverage. It might explain in detail how one of the paper's own reporters made a big mistake, and it ends with a recommendation. (Example: a journalist praises the restraint with which professional authors have treated the ending of the Harry Potter series, and wishes that journalists would treat the privacy of real people with the same respect: "What would Harry Potter do? The media held their tongue on a fictional boy's final chapter. Let's see that in the real world.")
  • letter to the editor: a short essay written by a member of the general public, usually responding to a specific story. (Example: After a student is quoted as being suspicious of Facebook's privacy policies, a Facebook employee writes to defend her company: "Facebook Privacy Policies Remain Unchanged.")

Opinion in Editorials

While you may put a bumper sticker on your car or add yourself to a Facebook group in order to show your allegiance to an issue or philosophy, in the context of persuasive writing, repeating a slogan does not count as presenting an opinion.

Seton Hill professors Michael Carey and Frank Klapak often talk about the difference between your gut reaction to an issue ("Smoking is bad!" or "Don't tell me what to do!"), and your thoughtful, considered opinion ("A law that prohibits all smoking within 200 yards of school property places an undue burden on school employees with a physical disability, who may have to drive off campus for their smoking breaks, and unfairly makes criminals out of smokers who happen to own houses near school property.")

An array of bumper-sticker slogans that support one side of an ongoing debate (abortion, smoking, Iraq) does not constitute a political editorial; neither does a list of rhetorical questions ("Does Barack Obama think the American people are stupid, or is he just too clueless to know how ridiculous his health care reform really sounds?" or "How does a rich, powerful woman like Ann Coulter manage to fool so many idiots into thinking she understands the concerns of the working class?").

Case Study

A few years ago, a student began an editorial assignment with a draft that was really a rant: "Why are so many classes at SHU only offered every other year?"  While his frustration was understandable, his first draft made no attempt to answer that question -- he simply vented his anger, and announced that more courses should be offered every year.

I encouraged him to do what reporters do -- find answers. He talked to some faculty members about the issue, investigating the pros and cons of offering courses more frequently, and and he learned that if these every-other-year courses were offered every year, they would be much less likely to fill up, and therefore more likely to be canceled.

If 10 people take a course that's offered every other year, then probably only 5 people would take it if it were offered every year.  Now, I personally would love to teach classes to only 5 students... but then who would teach all the other courses, the ones that 20 or 40 students need each semester?  We'd have to hire more faculty members to teach those courses.  Where would the money come from to pay for those additional faculty members?  From higher tuition, of course.

There's usually a reason why things are the way they are. Sometimes it's a pretty good reason. After you find out the reason, you're ready to persuade your readers of a superior solution.


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