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Posts Tagged ‘citizen journalist’

airplane  I just returned from a trip during which I spent at least 12 hours in six airports in three countries. Since my travels coincided with two highly publicized incidents involving airport security, I was ready to write on the subject. But when I returned and caught up on my reading, I realized the subject was already covered, or rather, blanketed. Apparently, as columnist Frank Rich noted in a New York Times op-ed piece, “There may not be a person in America without a strong opinion about what coulda, shoulda been done to prevent the underwear bomber from boarding that Christmas flight to Detroit. In the years since 9/11, we’ve all become counter-terrorists.”

Rich’s article was actually about the dangers posed by our under-regulated financial system, (he proposed a full body scan for banks). But his early comment got me thinking about what it means to express an opinion in the 21st-century and about the op-ed piece, a writing form I respect.  Thanks to the Internet, we can reach a potential audience of hundreds or thousands or millions. We don’t need an editor or even a publisher. Ta-da! Suddenly, not only are we all not only experts, but also op-ed writers.

talking heads    Anyone can have an opinion, of course. But just as we ought to recognize that not all opinions are equally informed, equally considered, equally reasoned, we ought to recognize that not all opinionated pieces rise to the level of good editorializing, especially when our news now comes to us int he form of aggregate reporting and random editorializing.

The idea behind editorial writing is to promote an opinion or perspective. A good editorial can be a punch to the gut or a gentle tap on the shoulder. It can be a call to arms or a keenly analytical observation. It can be passionate or humorous, a case presented or an alternative suggested. In all cases, however, the writing is about the audience, not the author.

That’s something a great many people fail to grasp. Not everything that occurs to us deserves to be expressed and not everything we feel like expressing rises to the level of op-ed material. I realize that most people who throw their comments onto AOL or HuffPo aren’t thinking along those lines. But I hate seeing the art of op-ed writing reduced to the level of rant; the style is fitfully amusing at best and painfully awful most of the time. What’s the point? If you’re simply venting, go punch a wall. 

punchIn the world of self-publishing, whether books or blogs, we’re past due for a little self-policing. And don’t kid yourself: if you hit the “send” button these days, you’re in a sense published — or at least you’re going public. To paraphrase that great sage Thumper, “If you can’t think of anything new to say, don’t say anything at all.” No sense in contributing to the clutter out there.

Thumper

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