I am a very opinionated person. I blame it on genetics; both my grandmothers have quite strong opinions, so I guess it runs on both sides of the family. Then again, growing up in an environment with two opinionated parents also probably had its effect.
Regardless of whether nature or nurture is responsible for it, I’ve always known exactly what my opinions are, and have been very expressive of what those opinions are. Naturally, when I found out at the start of my freshman year that there was a student-run newspaper on campus, I thought “perfect!” I sent in a sample opinion, and within a matter of weeks had a published article. Now, at the end of the year, I’m on the staff, doing what I wanted to do from the beginning of the year – get paid to give my opinion.
Having written for a year or so, I’ve come up with a sort of format for writing my opinion pieces. This R’Persepective doesn’t follow it very well (or at all, really), since it’s meant to be more personal than the “standard” sort of opinion. That said, I figured I’d share my opinion about opinions in general and about writing opinions — whether you want to hear it or not.
I’ve always thought that having opinions is one of the most fundamental rights a person should have. Though the Constitution doesn’t mention them by name, opinions are at the heart of the First Amendment; freedom of speech lets you give opinions in public, freedom of the press lets you print them and even freedom of religion revolves around a person saying “this is how I should worship.” In fact, before you can exercise any of your First Amendment rights, you really have to have some sort of opinion; there’s no way to get around that.
To take it a step further, it actually scares (or at least, concerns) me when people don’t have opinions. To me, not having an opinion on some topic means one of two things: either you are uninformed on it, which could be bad or, even worse, you haven’t put any thought into it. Either way, it’s rather disturbing, especially if it happens on a larger scale, when people can’t tell you what they think about a subject. For example, if I were to mention a political issue such as the Patriot Act, how many people would be unable to discuss it simply because they’ve never heard of it? I’ll admit, I’m occasionally guilty of being in that first category, but that’s mostly because I’m too cynical to watch the news. Also, this rule of thumb only applies to noteworthy or newsworthy topics; I won’t criticize a non-Trekkie for being unable to answer the question, “Kirk or Picard?”
Now, I think everyone should have opinions, but I know not everyone is so articulate about them (or willing to share them). The newspaper world is primarily the domain of English majors, and it’s only because I happen to be good at writing that there is anyone from Bourns, namely myself, who works for the Highlander. It really takes skill at the English language to be able to write opinions (or anything that goes in the paper), so it’s not a job for everyone. Of course, with practice, one can improve their writing and therefore improve their ability to state opinions.
Once I’ve got the idea for an opinion (from anywhere like a newspaper to something word-of-mouth), there are a few guidelines I try to follow, which I’d say are valid for anyone writing an opinions piece. First, an opinion should not be deliberately inflammatory. You’ll never get everyone to agree with your opinion, and perhaps the topic is inherently contentious, but ultimately you should not be trying to actively offend the people who you disagree with (or who disagree with you). Second, defend your opinion to the hilt. You can and should acknowledge the other side of the story in the form of a counterargument, but emphasize why you are in the right. And perhaps the most important rule for this second half is this: be obvious. A newspaper is no place for flowery language and literary allusions (at least, not too much); the goal is to give a clear idea to the reader of what’s going on and why it matters. This second half is the opinion writer’s job, and it should be done as clearly and explicitly as possible. You are trying to convince someone of what you think, and it won’t happen if they’re stuck trying to follow your train of thought.
You really do want readers on your train of thought, because once they’re onboard, they can start thinking, and once you’ve got a few people, you’ve got the start of a conversation (or better yet, a debate). Opinions are important; I won’t say they’re more important than news (that might upset some of the editors), but they are vital to provoke thought among readers.
Not that I care; I just write because I’ve got an ego to inflate.