Our class is coming to a close, and as I was considering a topic for the last mass media blog post, I couldn’t help but revert back to my first love: newspapers. It’s no secret that I think newspapers have some life left and are still a vital part of society. There’s nothing quite like page after page of quality, honest and objective news. But what about that page toward the back…the one place where opinion is allowed and readily welcomed? And not to mention the page with some of the greatest potential to make a difference in a community.
I’ve got a love-hate relationship with the editorial page. Yes, I think it deserves to be in the newspaper. A paper is an entity of the community and supposed to be the voice of its readers. Sometimes that voice needs to take a stand for the community. Also, from a personal reader’s perspective, the letters to the editor can be quite entertaining.
But I firmly believe the editorial page should be limited to just that–a page. Readers have grown accustomed to the set-up of an editorial, but it still has no place in the rest of the regular newspaper. The occasional front-page editorial is edgy and attention-grabbing, but it should be a rare occurrence. Otherwise, the paper will become more like propaganda and less like a service to society. Writers’ main task should be to keep opinions to themselves.
But despite all that, there are four things which I think are necessary (in my 21-year-old opinion) for a good editorial and help justify its spot in the paper.
1. The editorial should be consistent with one another and reflect a coherent opinion of the paper. This is kind of a no-brainer. If you bounce back and forth between sides of an issue, it leaves readers questioning your credibility and the paper’s ability to bring dependable ideas to a community debate. It’s not the writer’s opinion; it’s the paper’s.
2. The editorial should be relevant to the community. Leave the national debate pieces to The New York Times. You’ve got to make it worth your readers’ time. If you want to write about Ferguson, don’t just parrot what everyone else has said. Make it relate. Maybe there are issues of race relations in your city or maybe you want to call upon your local police department to invest in body cameras. What does this issue mean for your community?
3. The editorial should be about an important issue and one that has the potential to evoke change. This goes along with #2. Writing about trivial issues is just a waste of space. The editorial page is meant to support the core conversations of democracy, so don’t waste inches on a subject no one cares about. Writing opinion pieces is a strict duty and yet another way to serve the community.
4. The editorial shouldn’t be ridiculous. A good opinion writer has the ability to add new insight to a popular debate, to add another facet to the conversation. But if a paper suggests a solution so implausible in the name of “being different” that it fails to help the situation, then it has failed its community. You’ll have a train wreck of all four points. No dependability/credibility, no relevance, no power to evoke change…and eventually no more readers.