COLUMN: How to write a column
Last Wednesday, in a fit of glee, I published the column, “Lower your ticket prices and (other team’s) students will show.”
It was a rather succinct piece that criticized ticket prices, as the high prices effectively shut out the other team’s students from Kelly/Shorts Stadium, and therefore resulted in low attendance numbers for a game that should have never had low attendance numbers.
I also called the athletic department incompetent. I stand by that proclamation in the narrowest of terms, in that the athletic department was incompetent when it came to setting ticket prices, which resulted in a half-empty stadium where more than enough students were willing to fill those seats at lower prices.
I’ve had both supporters and detractors in regards to the column. Supporters who emailed me directly and agreed with my assessment, and detractors who were offended at such a proclamation.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve had that reaction over a column, and it won’t be the last, but this time, for the first time, I found myself agreeing with the detractors. My column, while resting on a valid and relevant observation, simply falls into exaggerated criticisms and falls apart.
You see, I’m still learning how to write a column.
While there are several intricacies and frailties in column writing, it is one of the closest things to art in journalism. Through my experience thus far, these are the guidelines I have developed for myself:
1) For the love of God, making it colorful: seriously, your audience just got done reading six pages of dry newsprint. Nobody goes to the opinion section looking for more dry writing.
2) Make it provocative: Opinions that aren’t unique, comedic, or strong don’t do so well in a column. A good opinion piece calls for the reader to think and push their views in directions they haven’t considered. Opinion pieces are centered entirely around your views, and if you aren’t willing to stand behind them completely, then you should back away from the keyboard.
Unfortunately, my last column, provactivity gave way to exaggeration. In lieu of writing an effective column, I settled for just poking the athletic department with a stick. As enthralling as that might be, it isn’t what my job calls for.
Which leads to rule three: No one cares about your opinion. Honestly, they don’t. The only thing your average reader wants to do with your opinion is trounce on it and tear it to shreds. What they’re looking for is a compelling argument and what they want to see is that you can take the same journalistic principles on page one, and apply them to page six.
That’s where I let you down.
I appreciate the fact our readers don’t usually treat us like student journalists, because we as a newspaper don’t treat ourselves as student journalists. We view ourselves as journalists. We are constantly striving to supply our readers with the most accurate and balanced paper that we can produce.
I hold myself to the same standard. Although I occasionally reach short of the mark, I take pride in the fact that I can rise up and reach that standard again. It’s not about how much you get knocked off the horse, it’s about how many times you get back on.
Which is a rather crummy metaphor attempting to say this: Next time, I’m bringing you a better column.
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