Opinion Columns and the School Paper

By Newsday / Newspaper in Education

Opinion columns in school papers should be held to the same standards as those in professional papers. Opinion columns are coveted by many journalists not just because they want to be influential, but because they are under the impression that a column of “opinion” gives them the opportunity to spout off without being responsible for documentation, research and fair play. This misapprehension can be corrected by their becoming familiar with the writing of professional opinion columnists.

Whether the school paper’s opinion columns should address school matters only or may range beyond the schoolhouse gates should be determined by the paper’s editors and no one else. However remote from school matters an opinion column may be, however, it should always be relevant to the interests of its readers and not indulged in merely because the writer has a pet topic or an ax to grind. Even if a student journalist’s column strikes an adviser as a harmless piece of self-indulgence or silly railing, it should be as free from selfish motive, narrow-mindedness and any form of prejudice as the adviser can possibly convince the student it should be.

Daily and weekly newspapers are under no obligation to present both sides of a controversial issue by publishing two opinion columns, one pro and one con … However, dailies and weeklies are under an ethical and moral obligation to print responses in subsequent issues, in the form of letters or columns, to permit the other side to be heard. Although a school paper may decide it is under an obligation to provide a column for each side in the same issue because of the time lapse between issues, its editors need not feel it is their responsibility to do this all the time…

Many students will produce outstanding columns if they keep in mind the necessity for documentation, fair-mindedness, focus and crispness of style… Given the same topic, a hundred students will produce a hundred different columns, styled and worded according to the intellect, background and personality of each. All students should be encouraged, however, to produce a column that is sincere, provocative and fair-minded.

©1997 Newsday Inc. Reprinted with permission. www.newsday.com