Accepting my position as opinions section editor at The Mass Media was one of the easiest decisions in my life. It's also become one of the most difficult positions I’ve ever had.
There are a lot of reasons why. First, UMass Boston has very few journalism courses, and The Mass Media does not have a journalist advisor—with all due respect to Chuck, who still does a great job for us. Because of this, I don’t have a lot of prior knowledge about writing for a newspaper. This issue is complicated, so I’ll skip the discussion here and save it for my other article this week. Please check that out!
The second reason is that, since our staff is small, each section editor must write at least two articles per week—including the opinions editor. This means I have tocome up with two well-crafted opinion pieces every week—and since I like to sleep at night, they have to be opinions that I can stand by with confidence.
Let me tell you, that’s no easy feat. Some readers may recall that I’ve written about how you don’t have to have an opinion on everything; that it’stotally okay to say, “I just don’t know enough about this.” Isn’t this hypocritical for me to say, as someone who must create multiple opinion pieces every week?
This is probably the biggest struggle I have in my position. I have to reconcile the duality between moral and societal dangers of one person manufacturing opinions on anything and everything, and my job, which is to provide meaningful and informative content for our newspaper
In an ideal situation, the opinions editor of a newspaper would mostly be in charge of fielding a staff of writers who each have specific “beats” they are experts in. For example, I might have a writer working under me who knows a lot about transportation and macroeconomics, a writer who is an expert in gender studies and space, and a writer who knows everything about video games and politics.
In this ideal world, each of these writers pitches me articles that lie within their fields of expertise. I edit them, and that’s what goes into the paper. I might have a quota of three substantial articles per month on top of this, in the areas of my own expertise, among some other duties.
So, is it ethical for me to take on a tiny opinions section and fill it out with opinions on a wide assortment of topics?
My thought is that it’s far from the ideal situation, but there is a responsible way to do it and an irresponsible way to do it.
This leads me to my larger point. After a semester and a half, I think it is time to do two things. First, I want to formally explain what I am trying to accomplish with the opinions section and how I run it. Second, I want to encourage you all to send me feedback and, most importantly, contact The Mass Media to contribute your own articles. Of course, in this case, I’m advocating for more diverse opinions from a wide array of students, faculty and staff. We do need writers in general, not just in the opinions section.
Let’s get into it.
In running the opinions section, I make a real effort to only write articles on topics that I have at least an operational knowledge of. This is probably the most basic tenant of what I do—but the real key is what kind of articles I publish. At its core, I believe the opinions section shouldn’t only be a place for people to take a specific stance on one issue or another.
Rather, I see the opinions section as something broader. This is a place for people to speak about their experiences; to balance hopes and worries; to ask important questions about life and society. Of course, it all has to say something—some specific point must be made. I believe that point can be, and oftentimes should be, more than simply “this is bad,” “this is good” or “we should or shouldn’t be doing this.”
I believe running the opinions section like this does a few important things. Firstly, it unshackles the section from being relegated to a polarized battleground. Instead, it becomes a space for interesting and meaningful discussion, perspectives and ideas.
Secondly, it allows our small team to widen their horizons without manufacturing poorly informed stances on too many topics. We can get creative with our articles, tackling a wide range of topics that we may not be qualified to have a reasoned opinion on. This allows us to bring important and varied content to our readers ethically.
And lastly—but certainly not least—it opens up the opinions section to a wide variety of students, faculty and staff. Everyone has opinions of course. Not everybody feels like they need to publish every opinion they hold, and not all of those opinions demand an entire article. Plus, there are only so many lengthy, well-reasoned opinion articles you can write before running out—believe me, I would know.
So, instead of restricting the opinions section to pure, binary opinion pieces, I like to keep things more open. Some of you may just want to get something off your chest; possibly there is an experience you want to encourage others to pursue. You may even want nothing more than to drop some important knowledge you think should be more widely known!
As long as there is some point to it, it’s all welcome in the opinions section. That point could be as simple as “college students should know about this”—though there should be some explanation of why. That’s not too difficult to explain though, and I am here to offer any help you may need in writing your piece.
If you’ve been reading the opinions section for the past two semesters, you’ll know that I often encourage students to get engaged and get involved with the UMass Boston community. I know it can be hard at a commuter school, especially if you live far away. But I believe that writing for The Mass Media—or our other publications such as The Watermark and Writ Large—is a great and convenient way to get engaged.
I really encourage readers to get in touch with The Mass Media through our email—firstname.lastname@example.org—if they have any desire to publish a piece of journalism. As I’ve said, the opinions section is wide open for you, but so are our other sections like news, arts and lifestyle, sports and humor.
Lastly, if you’d like to send me feedback, feel free to contact me at James.Cerone001@umb.edu. The only way I will know if what I’m doing at the opinions section is working is if I hear from readers!
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