Student Reporting

Why Dan Kennedy’s opinion writing course is so crucial today

by Patrick Strohecker

In today’s tumultuous news cycle, what journalists have to say is crucial to readers. But often what’s expected from reporters goes beyond just the facts. Reporters are increasingly rewarded for voicing their opinion. It’s what makes the opinion pages of newspapers and websites so well-read and why television personalities like Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper have such high ratings.

So how does a young reporter get started in opinion writing?

In Dan Kennedy’s “POV” opinion writing course last spring, Northeastern journalism students learned about the various ways opinion writing is presented through journalism. Not only is there the conventional opinion column that presents an argument the author has – often with facts used to back that opinion up – there are also reviews, personal essays, reported columns and opinion features.

This course is crucial in today’s climate by helping the next wave of reporters learn how to properly craft pieces of opinion journalism. Too often, people who have no background in journalism, and even novice journalists, think that if you have the space and opportunity to write an opinion piece, you can say whatever you want without consequences. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

What reporters need to learn when tasked with writing a column is that their opinion must be supported by facts and that, even though they’re presenting their own personal opinion, there can still be consequences if not done in a journalistic fashion.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from this class is that you still need to maintain your integrity as a journalist when penning a column, or else your opinion holds very little meaning from that of a crazy person who just likes to shout their own thoughts about a particular matter.

Being a columnist has always been a revered position in the journalism industry and, with the proper training and journalistic ethics, the stories written can carry vast weight in the current news ecosystem. As Pulitzer prizewinning opinion reporting has shown, done well, these pieces can change minds, raise awareness and even shift policy. That may be more important than ever today.

 

Patrick Strohecker is a graduate student in Media Innovation.