Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tim Nickens' Visit: The purpose is to provoke thought

As we move swiftly through the semester, I feel I have learned a great deal about editorials.

However, there’s still much to learn.

Tim Nickens, the Editor of Editorials at The St. Petersburg Times, came in recently to my Critical Writing class to speak to us about the art of editorial writing, its purpose and the characteristics of a good editorial.

According to Nickens, The St. Petersburg Times has always been a traditionally liberal paper, but through time, the tone has changed. He added that the style of the editorials has changed, but the fundamental values have not. The Times is for abortion rights, against the death penalty, for the good environment and a vigorous and strong education system. Only the tone and the manner through which the editorials are expressed have changed, Nickens said.

I find that interesting. It is as if a newspaper is a person, with ideals and certain beliefs. And stands strongly by them, no matter what others think.

I once had this perception of editorial writers as walking encyclopedias, with so much knowledge about a broad range of topics that it almost spilled out of them as they walked. I once thought they were capable of conjuring up perfectly-crafted, intellectually stimulating editorials with great ease.

I didn’t think they ever had trouble. It was their job- and it was a piece of cake.

How ignorant of me.

The perception that I once held of editorial writers was not the correct one. Sure, editorial writers are very knowledgeable, but just like everyone else; they don’t know everything about everything.

This is why editorials require research. Numbers. Statistics.

Nickens mentioned that it is more difficult to attract an audience to international issues than national issues. This makes perfect sense. It’s sad to say, but many people are unaware of what’s going on within our country. How likely would it be, then, that they know, or be affected by, international issues? Not very. Unless they are from that respective country that is being discussed.

Nickens had quite a bit to say on the subject.

“It is a bit harder to but it’s also the area where you have the least influence. We’re not going to persuade Israel to have a ceasefire,” he said. “We probably write less international editorials than national editorials because we can have more influence about state and national issues.”

That’s the purpose of editorials, Nickens reminded us. To provoke and stimulate thought.

“At the most basic, you’re trying to get somebody to do something- you’re trying to provoke an action or response by someone,” he said.

Sometimes, editorials are aimed at one person, he added.

I wonder if I will ever write an editorial directed at one person. Who would that be, I wonder?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rosemary's Visit: Editorials Help Illuminate

Before this class, I never read editorials.

Never thought about them.

Now, not only am I expected to read and write them, but since the beginning of this course, I’ve felt challenged as a journalist like I never had before. Everything I have been taught until now, the “do’s and don’ts” of responsible reporting, seem to have gone out the window.

I have been formally introduced to the World of Editorial Writing. Since then, I’ve felt like a dizzy rat trying to clumsily maneuver its way through a maze. I wasn’t sure which steps to take first, nor was I sure which path(s) would lead me to my destination- which was and remains to be a “good editorial.” I was ignorant of the factors that make up a good editorial.

Luckily for me, Rosemary Goudreau, former editorial page editor for the Tampa Tribune, visited my Critical Writing class last week to share her insight and knowledge about editorial writing.

Goudreau, who graduated from the University of Florida, reported for the Tampa Tribune between 1977 and 1981. She also worked for The Orlando Sentinel and The Miami Herald. Goudreau was also the managing editor for the Cincinnati Enquirer before she rejoined the Tampa Tribune.

Goudreau described what makes a good editorial.

“It has something to say that moves people-internally- and moves people to want to take action,” she said.

Her statement helped me realize the great power and influence that editorial writing holds. I would love, by the end of the semester, to be able to write an editorial that will spur readers to action…or to at least seriously reconsider and challenge their own thoughts about the issue.

Goudreau also mentioned that a good editorial helped illuminate- it is not confined to just facts.

A good editorial, she went on, does not have the word “I” in it. This makes sense to me. Placing “I” within an editorial would seem as if the writer deems herself a know-it-all. We don’t want that. We want the readers to understand our point of view, because we have laid it out for them to comprehend where we are coming from.

Her voice, Goudreau explained, is the second voice.

“It has facts, it has energy, it has emotion,” she said.

These three factors are what helped me edit my first editorial. I wanted to inform with facts, write with energy and make readers feel emotion.

Goudreau reminded us of the importance of this class. It is to teach us how to communicate an opinion with clarity, precision. Also, to know how to communicate effectively- which she said, not many organizations know how to do.

For that, she is grateful of course. She said this gives her much hope that she will find much employment. If I were to ever write editorials full-time, I guess that’s a good thing for me too.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Chachere's Visit: Opinion's a whole new realm

Vickie Chachere, Tampa Tribune editorial writer, came to speak to us in class last Wednesday. She works for USF now; her job is “to tell USF’s story on whatever platform.” Any way she can, via radio shows, magazines, websites, TV stations that accept video, etc. Sounds like a pretty cool job, actually. I can only imagine the job to be somewhat of a race against time; to see how many stories you can get out there about USF within a certain period of time. Scouring through media websites, calling and emailing, scrambling, running here and there, meetings. Just the kind of adrenaline I seek in this field.

Chachere shared her insight and stories about different aspects of opinion writing. As far as relying on other media when writing an opinion piece, Chachere said it is dangerous. I can see where she is coming from but my initial impression of a well-written opinion piece was one that included reports and facts derived from newspaper sources and other articles. I do see her point though; who knows if the articles and sources a writer uses within his/her opinion piece contains flaws or misleading information? You never know.

Some more tips:
- Better blogs are going to have hyperlinks of original studies
- Try to get beyond a one-dimensional piece
- You can bring personal experiences into an editorial. Be careful though, can’t cross over into column writing. Personally, don’t get me started. I have a million stories, and if I begin to tell them with the pure intentions of an opinion piece, by the time I’m done, it will have turned into a personal commentary.

Two issues you DO NOT want to write about, according to Chachere; abortion and spanking. She said a bombardment of emails will ensue. I agree with the abortion topic; I saw great tension build up at some pro-life demonstration between the USF library and Cooper Hall last year……interesting. There was a group of pro-choice advocates standing right next to the pro-lifers, all standing with posters, their messages scribbled in thick multicolored markers. Abortion = Let’s disagree to disagree. Or more over; I don’t give a damn what you say, my opinion is the RIGHT way. It’s never an issue where opposite ends find common ground.

Chachere said the transition from being a reporter to an opinion writer was tough; it took her a good year or more to adjust. She began reporting in Florida in 1989. She covered local government, politics in Tallahassee, medicine, prisons.

Her reporting experience got her hired on an editorial board. Cachere added that once you get a spot on an editorial board, you don’t give it up. She needed stability so she jumped at the chance. It took her a while to get the “he said, she said” that is found in news reporting, out of her system.

She’s had to take the stance that she doesn’t agree with in an opinion piece. Which to me is insane. I wonder if at least one small crumb of her true opinion on the issue has crept up in a given piece.