The Lariat celebrates opinions, even yours

Over the last three years, I have held several positions at multiple publications, both at the collegiate and professional levels. During my time as a staff writer, arts and entertainment editor and copy editor, I’ve seen how rewarding working for a newspaper can be.

Although we certainly don’t celebrate tragedy, there’s always a deep sense of purpose attached to being able to cover events like the West explosion or the Fort Hood shooting, because we know we are getting needed information to the public. But, of course, my favorite moments are those when I’m able to cover a story about an incredible person or event in the community that brings positivity to the public eye.

Media jobs can also be incredibly stressful. Incredibly.

I’m not even referring to the pressure of finding new content on a regular basis, managing multiple daily deadlines or scrambling to find content when a story falls through at 10 p.m. (and deadline is at 10:30).

I’m talking about the beast that is public opinion.

No matter the piece, each time we publish something online or in print, we are inviting the public into a conversation.

Most of the feedback we receive from readers is in response to columns or editorials. When the public’s thoughts are mostly pleasant, we don’t hear much from anyone. Someone might write in to voice how much they liked something, but in general, all is quiet outside our newsroom.

The second we publish something that doesn’t sit well with even a fraction of readers, we brace ourselves as a wave of angry tweets, posts and emails washes over the newsroom.

Before continuing, I’d like to clarify the differences between editorials, columns and articles. These words are not, in fact, interchangeable, although many people disregard this fact. Please don’t do that.

A traditional news article, or story, is a piece of writing created by journalists that includes research and interviews conducted with sources knowledgeable about the topic at hand. This type of writing should be as objective as possible and present things as they happened, allowing readers to form their own thoughts on the events.

A column can be written by journalists or readers. These are pieces that allow the writer to make an argument on a topic and supply evidence for that opinion. The views of these individual writers do not automatically reflect those of the newspaper or staff members.

An editorial is unique in the fact that it is not credited to an individual author, but rather to an editorial board. Traditionally, an editorial board is a group of people who don’t write for the news side of the paper, but at small publications, there may be overlap between members of the editorial board and members of the news staff.

Board members regularly meet to discuss current events and issues, and vote to decide a viewpoint on selected topics. The members of the board are assigned an editorial and write out the board’s stance on a given topic. This is the only form of opinion writing that reflects the newspaper’s views, but it is important to remember this doesn’t necessarily mean everyone on the board or employed by the paper have these opinions.

Many readers engage in conversation via letters to the editor, something news organizations have set in place so the thoughts and opinions of readers can be published on a daily basis. Readers write in. The editor-in-chief reads the responses. Well-written letters are published in print or, as space is often limited, online.

Receiving criticism, especially for editorials and columns, can be frustrating, but not because we don’t want to hear what people have to say. It’s the fact that many readers forget they aren’t actually talking to a Twitter handle or an email account.

As journalists, we welcome criticism. We welcome opinions and viewpoints that are different from our own, and if you survey our newsrooms, you’ll quickly find that the views held are as diverse as the jobs we do.

Sometimes newspapers publish columns and editorials that staff members themselves don’t agree with.

When someone forms an opinion, they’re doing so while often unconsciously taking a lifetime of values and experiences into consideration. Our viewpoints are a unique blend of thought and interpretation of the world around us, and we hold onto them because they’re closely linked to who we are.

On many occasions, I have seen the character of my co-workers inappropriately attacked. It’s one thing to think someone’s opinion isn’t logical. It’s something else entirely to insult the integrity of a person you’ve never met, simply because you don’t hold the same viewpoints.

If readers wants to respond to an opinion they don’t agree with, they should. But they should also be tactful. If you feel someone hasn’t done a gracious job of writing their viewpoint, it doesn’t make sense to stoop to the same level. Gather your thoughts and form an organized argument. Everyone will receive it better, and we’ll be much more inclined to run it in our publication.

Despite what you may believe, most journalists work hard to produce content readers will enjoy. In the event that we miss the mark, don’t hesitate to let us know. But do remember that we are people who are doing what we think is right. If you disagree with us, we can take a blow. Just keep in mind that a blow and running us over with a car are not the same thing.

Rae Jefferson is a senior journalism major from Houston. She is the Copy Desk Chief for the Lariat.