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?

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