Writing editorials and columns
In editorials, columns and reviews, your opinion is essential. Editorials and columns provide the passion and personality that news reporting doesn’t allow, according to journalism textbook writer Tim Harrower.
Should be 400-500 words long.
Comment on current events.
Criticize or praise.
Explain what issues mean to the reader.
Are unsigned because they represent the opinion of the newspaper, decided by the editorial board. At the Owl, the editorial board consists of the editor in chief, the managing editor, the copy desk chief, the features editor, the sports editor and the photo editor. Preferably, the editorial board would have an odd number of members to avoid tie votes.
These differ from editorials in that they are signed pieces. They represent the opinion of the writer. Successful columnists attract a wide following. Columnists usually work for one publication, though their columns may be syndicated via wire services.
Keep it tight. Short and sweet. State your point right away. State your reasoning and summarize your case. The longer the editorial, the less likely it will be read.
Make it relevant. The editorial must be timely and about a newsworthy topic that matters to readers. Explain why it matters.
Take a stand. Write a strong statement that urges readers to take action or at least to react. Be specific. Avoid vague generalities.
Attack issues, not people. Avoid name-calling and mud-slinging. Criticize the actions without cheap, personal shots.
Avoid bullying. Be precise, clever and subtle. Avoid beating people over the head with a sledgehammer. Persuade instead.
Manage your anger. Write the editorial when you are angry, but wait to publish it. When you’ve cooled down, rewrite or revise.
Begin and end strong. Grab the readers’ attention, maintain interest and end thoughtfully. Reward the reader at the end with a conclusion the makes your case well.
Report. It’s not just what you think. You still must support your opinion with facts. The idea is to persuade readers. You can’t do that by simply writing, “Trust me.” You must back up your opinions with facts that show readers why your way of thinking is correct.
Be open minded. Be willing to concede good points of the opposition. It shows that you are reasonable. But then point out your points and demonstrate why they are preferred over the opposition.
In general, there are three types of columns:
1. Topical commentary. Columnists respond to events and controversies locally, nationally and internationally.
2. Personal meditations. Turn to your own personal life to find universal truths that resonate with readers. Sharing those painful or humorous insights about families or friends can be wildly popular because people see themselves and their families and friends in them. They often read like diary entries.
3. Slice of life. Look for ordinary people and capture slices of their everyday lives – how they cope and persevere. These columnists often use dialogue and narrative to great effect.
Columns usually are accompanied by a logo that shows a photo of the writer, the writer’s name and the name of the column. Columns also often have headlines written in a different font than news and might use a drop cap – a big capital letter at the start of the column. All these design techniques hint to the reader that this isn’t an ordinary news story.
Develop a voice. Write distinctively, like no one else.
Base your opinions on facts, and present them. But don’t lard up the column with all facts. It’s a tightrope walk. Weave facts into your commentary.
Do your own reporting. Research public records, conduct interviews.
Choose newsworthy topics.
Avoid jumping on the bandwagon. If you have no fresh insights, keep quiet.
Always have a backup column. Something evergreen, meaning its timeliness and can run anytime.
Reviewers are part journalists, part commentators and all passionate about what they review. They write with a critical voice.
The reviewers’ aim is to tell the reader whether it’s worth spending time and money to see the movie, read the book or eat at a restaurant.
Writing a review:
Organize. Don’t ramble. Outline your ideas before you write. For example, in reviewing a movie, you’re structure might look like this:
Outline the key points and spend one graf analyzing each point.
Achieve a balance of opinion and reporting. Combine fact and reaction, information and insight. Provide just enough detail about the plot, for example, while explaining why the movie worked – or didn’t.
Know your stuff. You must know what you are writing about. You cannot fake it. You must have an expertise in film, music, theater, literature, food, etc. For example, if you’re reviewing an opera, you must know what the opera is about and how the music should be played and sung.
Know your biases. Connect with the broadest possible audience. Would you pan Star Wars just because you don’t like science fiction movies?
Avoid being pompous. You don’t have to wave your extensive expertise in everyone’s face. Write simply, but provide insights into why the performance was exceptional or failed to pass the test.
Don’t be cruel. Criticize, but be fair. Inform your readers. Don’t insult.
Never reveal the ending or surprise plot twists.
Write tightly. Avoid vague adjectives. Be specific and back up your opinions with details.
Avoid writing negative reviews of amateur performances.
Avoid getting personal. Criticize the performer, not the performer’s private life.
Have a thick skin. Readers will disagree with you all the time and call you a moron. You’ve got to be willing to take it.
Writing the bad review
Tips on how to write a great negative review, complete with a scathing column detailing the poor quality of food at a restaurant owned by a famous TV chef.
Association of Opinion Journalists
AOJ’s website has an easily accessible list of resources to help you gather facts for an opinion piece.