Gwenda Blair, a journalism professor at Columbia University in New York City, gave a lecture in Ferris Lounge on Thursday, May 8 on writing effective opinion and op-ed columns. Blair is the author of several books and has had works published in Newsweek and the New York Times.
The lecture began with the presentation of the Tarbell and Kimble Prizes in Journalism to Knox student journalists who had written outstanding works published between Spring Term 2007 and Winter Term 2008.
The Theodore Hazen Kimble Prize for best feature story on any topic (excluding reviews and editorials) in The Knox Student was awarded to junior Deana Rutherford for Looking Beyond Lincoln. The piece represented a “skillful use of interviews” Blair said. The runner-up for the prize was senior David Nolan for The poetry of music, the music of poetry. The Ida M. Tarbell Prize for best investigative pieces printed in any publication was given to 2007 graduate Amelia Flood for a series published last spring. The Tarbell Prize is given to the writer of an exceptional investigative story “based on substantial research and reporting beyond the interviewing of official sources.” The runner-up for the Tarbell prize was Rutherford for “OAKS brings together more than seniors.”
Once the prizes had been distributed, Blair began the lecture with a “good sampling of pieces that work” — five pieces that ran in various publications with the common theme of the presidential race.
Blair then discussed five points to consider when writing an opinion or op-ed column: audience, evidence, structure, reporting and credibility. Although op-ed columns are meant to be persuasive, their purpose is not necessarily to change the minds of the audience. They are not meant to be a source for reported news, either, though facts are important. Through credibility op-ed and opinion columns are meant to “establish a reason for people to think your opinion is significant” said Blair.
“The world is looking for opinions. There’s too much information. People are looking for someone to navigate it for them,” said Blair.
Blair and her audience also discussed whether or not an op-ed column should at least give some representation to different sides. Though tearing apart another side can be a good basis for argument, an opinion piece does not have to represent both sides.
“Being a forum for different points of view doesn’t mean each piece must represent all points of view,” said Blair.
Following the lecture was a question and answer session. Members of the TKS editorial staff asked for advice regarding standards for appropriate comments on articles and columns, as commenting will soon be a feature on the online edition of TKS.
“I think the editorial role of the staff and paper this year has been really contentious. Being able to discuss these things with a professor like this is a pretty big deal,” said junior Matt Baker.
Matt Baker is the online editor for TKS.
Deana Rutherford is the Managing Editor for TKS.