Thursday, September 08, 2005

How to write an editorial

A hands-on learning experience with your teacher, Chad West!

Just like you must shop for groceries only when you're hungry, you should write only when blindingly angry. This way, your words can explode in all of their incendiary glory.

I, like many others, lost my home and belongings to Hurricane Katrina. I believe that entitles me to everything you own. So, please, step aside while I steal from you.

I apologize. Please forgive my bitter rhetoric. Since I lost two houses and a wealth of belongings to a storm surge as large as the Berlin Wall, I’ve been a bit cranky. I hope you understand.

When addressing a national tragedy, considering what went wrong is paramount. Confront these issues head-on by accusing the victims of asking for it. Lump them together with criminals for a little extra flavor.

But I want to know what drives a person to stay and face a storm that he knows can kill him in seconds. More importantly, what drives that person to steal from the people who’ve opened their arms and pocket books to him?

Now that you have your conceit (in this case, victims = looters = scum), continue this device throughout your editorial. This works particularly effectively if you take yourself out of the equation. A little self-righteous, quasi-racist hypocrisy always makes matters entertaining.

You’ve seen the news footage of people being rescued from the roofs of housing projects in New Orleans. Soon after many of those people have been rescued, violent looting started. You are animals - every last thieving one of you. I too have lost all but my life and family, but that doesn’t give me a golden ticket to shoot at the police, rob gun stores and steal television sets. Looting for food is called survival. Looting for expensive electronic merchandise in a flooded city with no electricity is called greed and stupidity.

For the benefit of those who still fail to see where you stand on the political spectrum, say where you stand on Houston. It just doesn't get any plainer than that.

Amidst the shambles that my family’s life has crumbled into, I still have human decency. We might have lost the life we’ve come to know, but we’re determined to start over. My mother and father are taking new jobs in Houston. My sister is currently enrolled in Cypress Fairfield High School there.

If you are fortunate enough to offer a personal example of how to do things right, by all means do so. But don't feel like you have to explain what "doing it right" actually means. Let your readers figure it out! How else will those welfare cheats learn?

It’s hard, but we’re doing things the honest way. We’ve never cheated the system and never will. We’re not alone in this. Many families are doing the same thing in Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and so on.

Just as no man is an island, no man is a continent either. No one expects you to understand every facet of the human experience. Showing daft ignorance of local job markets and socioeconomic reality, then, renders you more human and approachable as an editorial writer.

Then there are the type of people who were unable to leave town had no transportation. Why? Because they had no jobs. Why? Because they’d simply rather not work. If you’re able-bodied enough to steal a television set and arms full of designer clothing, you’re able-bodied enough to get a job and buy a car like I did. If you were stuck in the city because you were just too lazy to work, don’t expect my sympathy.

Finally, tie up your refreshingly callous screed with a token qualifier that points out that you do, in fact, feel sorry for certain groups of victims. This is particularly effective for reversing any rhetorical damage you may have caused in your editorial. Listing the objects of your concern as "exceptions" shows you care and saves valuable print space by not forcing you to explain the difference between these people and those you violently attacked the whole time.

I understand, of course, that there are those such as the sick, elderly and genuinely poor who were honestly unable to evacuate—you are the exceptions. Otherwise, the bottom line is simple: Your peril is your fault.

Follow these rules and you're on your way to writing the same smug, analysis-free, first-draft editorials you've come to expect from American student newspapers. Good luck!


Flamingo Jones said...

In the spirit of "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all:

Phillip said...

barbara bush!

rhonda said...

" ...they had no jobs. Why? Because they’d simply rather not work."
what a self-righteous, self-congratulatory ass. this whole article isn't just an unfair and stereotype-riddled criticism, its implied tone smacks of "nyah nyah, i'm better than all of you."

Ian McGibboney said...

I would be willing to guess that, as a writer for the Vermilion, he isn't exactly supporting himself by his bootstraps.

Michael said...

I wish I could say that last paragraph was hyperbole, Ian. I really wish I could. Unfortunately, in my experience (especially at my current university), it's all too true.

Ian McGibboney said...

Michael, I read college newspapers from all across the country, and I totally agree. Flamingo Jones herself once relayed one from a recent issue of her alma mater's newspaper: the editorial talked about the center of a pineapple. Or something.

Flamingo Jones said...

No, it was MUCH more hard-hitting than that, Ian. The editorial made the bold, and ever important, claim that "PINEAPPLE RINGS TASTE BETTER THAN PINEAPPLE CHUNKS."

Mikel said...

Chad.....stfu, son.

Ian McGibboney said...

But, Flamingo, they DO! They're sweeter, plus they make for nice texture. Are you challenging the premise of the article?

rhonda said...

a question for flamingo jones, if you wouldn't mind answering. was the person who wrote the aforementioned pineapple article serious??? or was it supposed to be some sort of satire that just fell really flat? i am genuinely curious.

Ian McGibboney said...

For a decent sampling of current college columns, go to and go to the "student columns" section. They ran one of mine once. Because they get them from U-Wire, a college syndication service, they could be from literally any school in the United States. Despite this diversity, too many of these columns still run along the lines of "Time to go back to school!" and (an actual one there now) "There's always Italy to escape to." The detachment from the world is insane. To be fair, most of the pieces are pretty entertaining, and many are indee political. But an emerging social conscience among Generation Y would not hurt at all. I fear for them.