Newsroom Reflections: Lessons from the Opinion/Editorial section

I tweeted this little thought towards the end of my stint as my school newspaper’s Opinion/Editorial section editor.

In all honestly, I thought publication of an opinion not being the same as endorsement, was pretty obvious. But, that tweet was the result of coming to a bit of a boiling point after reading multiple comments attacking the journalistic integrity of my newspaper for publishing some extremely unpopular opinions.

Running the opinion section of a paper often means running along a very thin line distinguishing between what’s publishable and what’s unpublishable.

But, as the Opinion/Editorial section editor, I knew it was my job to walk that line. The more I walked it, the more I became more confident in my own judgment to make that distinction. The role of the Op/Ed section is to provoke discussion and awareness of the news and share perspectives that challenge our own viewpoints.

Running the section definitely both challenged and strengthened my own convictions about different issues and topics. Knowing and understanding the ideas that you definitely don’t agree with, certainly helps you define and assert your own convictions. I saw this especially in the outcry of Facebook comments against different opinion pieces published in the section.

In journalism school, you don’t spend very much time writing about your opinions, which makes sense. The point of the profession is to amplify the voices of others–and that mandate is especially important to the Opinion/Editorial section. Journalism is meant to open up conversation, which is why when news broke, opinions came flooding in. My job as the section editor, was to moderate those opinions and keep opening up discussion.

In the process of publishing some opinion pieces, I had to grit my teeth, set aside my own bias, buckle down, and respect the good articulation and argumentation with which writers used to espouse what I personally thought were terrible ideas.

This year, I got a bit of a thrill seeing a Facebook comment box light up with multiple comments after a particularly well-written or especially controversial op/ed article. People were actively discussing the topics of the pieces being published in the section—this meant that I was doing my job well.

Unfortunately, balancing along a thin line also means the perception that you’ve crossed it, which is what led to the aforementioned tweet. Some commenters said some opinion articles, especially those that didn’t align with their own convictions, was bad journalism and got angry at the fact that they was published.

Let’s be clear here: opinion articles themselves are NOT journalism. The aim of any journalistic decision is to raise awareness and understanding of different perspectives and issues. If that was accomplished in publishing an unpopular but well-articulated opinion, then the journalistic aim of publishing aforementioned opinion was achieved—good journalism.

So, a question arises: what made a piece unpublishable?

This question will always come up in the process of putting together an Op/Ed section. Unbeknownst to angry commenters, there were a few times where I felt the need to refuse publication or at least work hard with the writer to make their piece publishable.

I can’t say these guidelines are universal to other op/ed section editors, but in my case, I refused to publish anything that I judged to fall along these guidelines:

  • Anything that outright and/or unjustifiably attacked a particular demographic or individual of the community
  • Anything I judged as not well-argued or factually justified
  • Anything that seemed to give off a skewed picture of statistically proven facts

And what may seem clearcut in your own guidelines/convictions about what’s publishable and what’s not, are often challenged by the writers and articles you encounter.  These guidelines are still up to interpretation for anyone who holds this kind of editorial position.

I’ve learned that even if you become confident in your own judgment to make and follow criteria for publication, some will never be okay with your choices, and that’s just the way it is.

Being the editor of the Opinion/Editorial section is akin to walking a tightrope above the flaming pit of public opinion. It’s thrilling and scary sometimes, but eventually, you learn to find your footing and walk confidently to the end of the line.

Newsroom Reflections: The final j-school days

The first day of school is always somewhat nerve-wracking, but stepping into an auditorium filled with 189 fellow hopeful, aspiring journalists is an especially intimidating experience—particularly with the fact that about half of the present company, myself included, may not make it to the second year.

Sept. 4, 2014 blog post assignment for JOUR1000: Foundations of Journalism

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A photo from my first-year journalism lecture in my first semester of university! (The girl on the last seat of the third row from the bottom, with the glasses and terrible haircut—that’s me!)

 

Fast forward to April 11, 2018, where, in true IDGAF fourth-year journalism student fashion, I turned in my final j-school class assignment about half an hour before the deadline closed. In anticlimactic 21st-century classroom style, I turned it in via email from the comfort of my bed at home.

And that was it. Four years of undergraduate journalism school officially finished after one hastily written email.

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A Snapchat from the road while chasing after one of my third-year radio same-day stories.

In four years, I’ve interviewed academics, nonprofit professionals, government wonks, cartoonists, barbers, aspiring actors, and many different people in between. In four years, I’ve chased after stories about protests, fires, university policies, mental health, Indigenous communities, and so many more topics.

I’m grateful for the gruff, lovably crass journo professors who passed on their knowledge and passion of the trade, who forged the path before us in legacy media.

I have so much appreciation for my own classmates, with whom I’ve weathered late nights in editing suites, felt the pressure of down-to-the-minute deadlines and suffered elusive sources. I’m in awe of the classmates have gone on to take leaps and bounds in their own career paths by breaking into the sports media world while in school, publishing in nationally acclaimed media outlets, and even starting up their very own publications and video collectives.

I’ve heard journalism can get ridiculously cutthroat, but my experience at Carleton has definitely not been like that. The camaraderie generated by newsroom stress—from swapping stories for last-minute proofreading to helping each other with finding sources—was definitely a special bonding experience, one that can only be really found from going through common struggles.

And alongside my j-school peers, I’ve learned so much about how big our world can be.

There’s one rap lyric that really summarizes how breathtakingly big this world feels to me after bearing witness to so many stories: “How impossibly big it be, this symmetry / This brutality, and beauty and synergy” (Tiny Glowing Screens Pt. 3, by Watsky).

If there’s one major thing I’m taking away from j-school above anything else, it’s the age-old adage from Michelangelo that I first heard from my old high school English teacher: “I am still learning.”

The business of journalism is the business of learning—learning from our colleagues, learning from the people and places we encounter, and helping those around us learn more too.

Journalism has taught me that you can never stop learning about this big world—there’s just so many people, places, and stories to learn from.

And now, entering the world of work—I am so excited to learn even more.