Opinion/Editorial

The editorial page is a chance for readers to have input into the content of the paper and to ensure that their voice is heard. When used properly, the editorial page is one of the most powerful instigators for change in a community.

There are several components to the editorial page, including the staff editorial (the staff’s collective opinion, written in first person plural) on a timely topic that has been reported elsewhere in the paper, staff columns (a staff member’s individual opinion on a topic), guest columns (a non-staff member’s individual opinion on a topic), letters to the editor and editorial cartoons.

OPINION in a news story

The paper’s opinions are for the editorial page alone. They do not carry over to the news pages. For example, if the Technician endorses a candidate for student body president on its editorial page, that endorsement will have no bearing on news stories about that candidate.

If a newspaper is to maintain its credibility with readers, news and opinion must stay separate. Most papers go so far as to have a strict separation of its news and opinion staffs. Editorial writers don’t write news stories, and reporters don’t write editorials.

News vs. editorial

There is another division that warrants discussion: the one within the editorial department that separates news from opinion.

Opinion, of course, shows up throughout the newspaper in columns, which express personal views, and in reviews, such as those of computer games, movies, music, restaurants, theater and television. Those are marked either as criticism or with the author’s photograph rather than a byline.

It’s the newspaper’s institutional views, as formulated and expressed by the editorial board, that the paper keeps separate from its news reporting. An editorial praising or criticizing Student Government, should not be reflected in the objective page 1 account of that issue. The two sections, news and editorial, are quite separate, written by people in different sections of the paper.

Other places for opinion

Our goal is to serve as a public forum for student opinion. To that end, not only do we publish a wide variety of viewpoints on the editorial page, but we have message boards and commentary slots on our Web site. Anyone can comment on almost any article posted on the site.

After all, our goal is to serve as a public forum, to encourage debate and present new ideas — conservative, liberal, moderate, anti-Technician, pro-Technician, whatever. The debate, itself, is a lot of the fun.

Editorial Board

The paper’s editorial board decides the positions taken in the staff editorials. While perhaps not as diverse as the campus, they do come from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints. Discussion around an editorial topic is often lively and spirited. The editor, hired by the Student Media Board, chairs the editorial board meetings.

The editorial board consists of the paper’s top editors. They don’t sign the editorials they write, because editorials express the collective thoughts of the board.

Editorial board members meet each afternoon on days before the paper comes out to discuss the stories, photos and artwork that will appear in the next edition. Those meetings are open to the public by appointment.

When deciding on editorial opinions, majority rules, but most opinions reflect the vast majority of the opinions of the editorial board. The editor has the final say if the group cannot come to consensus.

A public forum

But the editorial page isn’t just a forum for staff opinion. Indeed, the staff editorial is but one item on the editorial page. The Technician is a public forum for student opinion. As such, guest columns, letters to the editor and other items appear on the page daily to reflect the wide array of viewpoints on campus.

Separation from business

All newspapers are businesses, even the N.C. State student newspaper. The Technician makes money, mainly, by selling advertising. The newsroom, however, operates completely separate from the business side of the operation. The newsroom has nothing to do with advertising.

It’s that separation that may cause to sometimes see news reports revealing unflattering information about a frequent advertiser — or detailing the accomplishments of a business that never advertises. That separation of the news coverage from the newspaper’s financial interests is necessary to protect the paper’s credibility.

Editorial Topics

A newspaper’s editorials have the ability to alter public opinion, bring a topic to the forefront of discussion, or expose something with which the writer does not agree.

Good editorial writing is still reporting. An editorial presents facts, but gives more analysis and more of the writer’s opinions. Each editorial should have an ample amount of research, much like an investigative piece a reporter would write. Never should an editorial be purely based on the staff’s opinion, the writer must present evidence to back up the staff’s opinion.

The topic chosen for editorials often reflects discussion of people and events going on around campus, issues that are important to students. Generally, an editorial writer proposes a stand, which should reflect thorough research and weighing of the facts.

The board then debates the issue before nailing down a position. After hearing all sides of the issue, the board always should be asking itself: “What is in the best interest of our primary audience, the student body at N.C. State Univeristy?”

What research does for an editorial:

  • Makes for a stronger case. One of the main goals for an editorial writer is to persuade public opinion. The more research done, the more credible the writer’s column is.
  • Allows the writer to better understand the topic, thus making it easier for the reader to read. Where reporters must present unbiased accounts of something, columnists must understand every detail of their topic so that it can be explained to others.
  • Allows the writer to see the other side of the argument. When writing a column, the writer should attack the strongest part of the opposition’s argument. George B. Pyle of the Salina (Kansas) Journal wrote, “Noting the other side, at least in passing, buys the editorial credibility and strengthens its argument. It lets the reader know that the other side has been considered by the editorial writer and has been found wanting.”

An editorial writer should put himself into research just as a reporter would. For example, if a columnist is writing a column on student government, he should be at student government meetings, listening to what is taking place and asking people questions after the meeting. As the writer forms opinions for the column during these meetings, it’s good to talk to members of the student government about the opinions. Feedback is a good thing, no matter if it is positive or negative. The writer can even get quotes from them to use in the column, adding to its credibility.

Pyle wrote that an editorial is the kind of argument “...that uses logic, example, tradition, emotion, satire, outrage or ebullience to build a case that something should or should not be done.” To prove a point, the writer should be drawing on a wide array of personal experiences and using a variety of writing techniques. The editorial should connect and engage with the reader. The more a writer is able to relate to the reader, the better the chance the opinion will be heard. For example, if a writer relates how something, such as alternative pesticides, worked in another community, he can show how it would work for N.C. State.

Editorial form

 

editorial form

The form of a an editorial is a series of connected boxes. The most important part of the editorial is the statement of opinion. It needs to come early in the editorial so the reader doesn’t have to make it to the end to know the paper’s stance.

An editorial should be divided into four parts:

  1. Introduction — Give information and background on your topic. Don’t assume the readers are already familiar with the argument.
  2. Reaction — Explain your position
  3. Details — Provide support for your argument
  4. Conclusion — Provide alternatives or solutions and restate the paper’s position

The editorial should read like a conversation. In other words, when the column is read aloud, it should sound and feel perfectly normal, just as if the writer were talking to someone. A columnist should be writing for the ear, not the eye. Humor is good much of the time. It grabs the reader and feels more natural to the ear than chunks of information crammed together.

After writing the editorial, the columnist should edit it himself, checking the opinions, language and tone.

What to look for when editing a column:

  • Make sure both sides of an argument are heard and that the argument is clearly supported with facts and even quotes from “experts.”
  • Make sure it sounds natural to the ear. Read it aloud as if you were telling your thoughts to someone. If it sounds natural, it will read natural.
  • Make sure the columnist has not insulted anyone or anything for just insult’s sake. Criticism must have a purpose.