Sunday, January 20, 2013

Prescriptions for The Orion: Opinion

This week I'm writing prescriptions for a better Orion. Today: Opinion.

Rx1: Write less about yourselves, more about the campus and the community
One of the problems in an otherwise solid opinion section fall semester was the identity of the section and its consistency. Was the writing there going to be a collection of personal essays, newspaper-style commentary, editorials aimed at changing policy, humor or what? And like most college papers, it faced (and faces) the legitimate question about why anyone should care what a bunch of 20-year-olds have to say about anything. 

I believe 20-year-olds do have lots of legitimate, interesting things to say. The trick is to figure out what those are and say them in a way that is both authoritative and that reflects their perspective as young adults. The fix, I think, is to make the focus of the writing the issues and situations (bad or good) on campus and in the community rather than the personal lives of the writers. Solid research and the self-awareness of writing as a young, education person (who has a long-term, vested interest in the world becoming a better place) will provide the frame that will make that writing valuable.

Rx2: Develop a cartoon or multi-panel comic with an edge
Harper’s cartoonist Thomas Nast brought down the Tammany Hall machine in New York with his editorial cartoons and demonstrated that the artist’s pen can be just as sharp and effective as the editorialist’s. The illustrations Liz Coffee provided fall semester made the opinion pages of The Orion some of the best in the paper, but I think a topical single panel or editorial comic strip would be a great way to make the pages better.

Rx3: Create a podcast about a specific topic or issue
It’s hard to know exactly what to do and do well with opinions on the non-print platforms at The Orion. The opinion pages in the newspaper are exactly the right place for thoughtful, analytical writing that doesn’t work very well, in my opinion, on the Web and all its various publishing forms (Twitter, Facebook, websites, apps). So, what to do?
I’m a huge fan of both the Freakonomics podcast and Radio Lab from WNYC. They embody serious thinking and storytelling in an entertaining format that audiences appreciate. Rather than shovel columns from The Orion pages onto the website, why not try to develop a topic-specific podcast (the town-and-gown campaign against alcohol abuse or becoming a wiser consumer, for example) for This could even replace the Opinion panel on TheOrionApp.

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