The ‘write’ to an opinion
Honest neutrality is the hallmark of responsible news reporting. Biting commentary is frowned upon, and opinions are generally tampered. All relevant facts are presented, and conclusions lack hyperbole. However, as an opinion-editorial writer, I have a certain amount of leeway in the manner I present a story. I may report events with a gentle spin; I am encouraged to craft and present tasteful rhetoric.
The hallmark of responsible opinion-editorial writing is a mastery of the Aristotelian balancing act. In order to fashion my arguments with a credible ethos, I must present the facts in a relatively neutral fashion and list my general qualifications. Pathos should be presented responsibly: a powerful tool, imagery should be tactful and appeals to the reader’s identity should be sincere. Most importantly, my piece’s logos should not elevate hyperbolic platitudes or suffer from one-sidedness: I must articulate well-formulated counter-arguments alongside my primary reasoning, or I risk forfeiting my ability to advance my thesis successfully.
The end-goal of the balancing act is to engage in a rhetorical conversation with the reader. A truly insightful commentary raises many questions and provides few answers; it forces the reader to engage in a silent dialogue, and it should spur the reader to action —constructive action.
Eagle News penned a commentary on September 23, 2015, titled “Censorship on campus: We will not be silenced.” The thesis of the article was plain: “You have silenced us, and your actions threaten your own ability to speak freely.” I agree with my former colleagues in most respects, but I as well penned this commentary as a form of “concurring opinion.” Vandalism by way of theft is a dramatic, albeit unlawful, form of protest. The protestor’s act should provoke my former colleagues to re-evaluate how well they are performing the balancing act.
What would motivate a person to steal as many as 1,500 newspapers? The author asserted the motivation was “vengeance” “stealing,” and an “[act] in [the vandal’s] own self-interest, not in the student body’s.” Once again, I would tend to agree. However, the author concluded with the image of an Orwellian dystopia, proclaiming: “We are Eagle News, and we will not be censored.” That declaration is troubling. That dramatic appeal to pathos draws the reader away from the heart of the protestor’s likely motivation: a perceived inability to voice a contrary opinion.
Perhaps, in the mind of the protestor, opinion-editorial writers may have been providing too many answers and raising too few questions. Perhaps, the protestor believes that the hard-working Eagle News staff writers have adopted an “unbalanced” editorial stance. Persuasive writing is an art form that very few master. I do not claim to be one who has mastered the technique, and there is an inescapable learning curve for penning compelling commentary.
But, I say this to the vandal, “If you wish to answer silent questions aloud, and you feel a furious dissent building in your mind, I call you to action. Do not allow your opinions to lay dormant, but do not censor yourself by ignominiously censoring others’ work. Never has Eagle News censored me, and you have no cause to believe that Eagle News would censor you. Form your thoughts, and record them. Refine your ideas, and disseminate them — take constructive action and submit a guest commentary.”
Jeffrey Haut is a 2013 graduate of FGCU, a former senior staff op-ed writer at Eagle News, and a third-year law student at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Haut maintains a political-legal blog hosted by the Naples Daily News – “Politics Dancing Partner.”