Monday, May 14, 2007

How not to write an editorial...again

On Saturday night, one of my co-workers and I shot the breeze about our college newspapers. I mentioned to him that our staff editorials, as well as pretty much all other columns, were prone to one of journalism's most cardinal sins. Something more forgivable than, say, murder, but less forgivable than plagiarism. In other words, the ultimate pain-in-the-ass scourge that, as I now know, is as epidemic in Ohio as it is in Louisiana. Fortunately, I didn't have to look too far for an example, because two years after I last set foot in the pages of The Vermilion, that scourge is still alive and sinning!

So, here it is, the Monday afternoon before the paper goes to press, and I’ve just remembered that I have to write the staff editorial for this week. Honestly, I don’t understand how I have become so forgetful in my not-so-old age, but I don’t think that’s really the issue at hand.

The problem I have before me right now is that I really have absolutely no idea what to write about—Go figure. On a day-to-day basis, I usually have thousands of thoughts come to mind about lots of different topics, but because my story is due today, I have the mind of an autistic 12-year-old whose mom used drugs while he/she was in the womb.

Let’s see, I guess I could go the easy route and write a few hundred words about the Virginia Tech shootings from last week. That wouldn’t be cliche at all, and God knows there wasn’t nearly enough news coverage. In all seriousness, I thought it was a tragic incident and definitely something to pay attention to, but even my expert opinion can’t offer up any angle that hasn’t already been covered, so I’ve decided against it. I wouldn’t want to bore the faithful readers of The Vermilion (all 15 of us, including the staff).

AAAAH! Make it stop!!! Why, God, why must this tradition as old as The Verm itself keep festering like a recurring rash? And for half of the editorial, no less!

Note to budding editorial writers: nobody cares about your thought process. And even if they do, you've got to have a thought first. If you find some interesting angle to it, go for it. I've done at least one column this way, I'll admit, but at least I was trying to satirize what it's like to put off final projects. This kid...is just bored.

I can't imagine why, considering what she says once a topic registers with her:

So, what else can I talk about that will fill up this space with meaningful words? Hmmm, I do have some feelings about the colossal changes that are about to take place in the communication department. As some have heard, Robert Buckman, Ph.D., the principal journalism professor, and Michael Maher, Ph.D., the dean of the communication department, are both going to be gone for the next two semesters.

These are two tremendous developments for the university, each of which deserves its own full editorial: 1) Dr. Maher is one of the most competent - and witty - professors ever to walk the UL campus, as he has for decades, and will now do for a year in Germany; 2) oh, and our 59-year-old journalism professor with two artificial hips has been called into active duty with the Army for a tour in Afghanistan.

Those are some of the biggest stories UL has had in years! And that's not even counting the imminent retirement of President Ray Authement, who's helmed the school since 1974. Not to mention that a Canadian doctoral student (and good friend of mine) was recently killed after some idiot with a suspended license rear-ended her off the highway. Add to that the coming renovation of the communications building that's been needed since 1981(!!) and the demolition of a 100-year-old campus icon just because, and there's not a single excuse for anyone - much less the editor-in-chief of a university newspaper - to waste newsprint space on why you have nothing to write about.

A keen writer can crank 600 words about absolutely nothing and leave the reader wanting more. Others are given 10,000 words' worth of material and come up with absolutely nothing.

Heather Miller, I've read a lot of your editorial work, both in The Vermilion and in our communications magazine, and - I say this as a concerned colleague - you seem to have a metaphysical obsession with looking inward.

Time to get keen.

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