Editorials

Editorial: Revamping commentary

By
Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Herald’s largest job is to facilitate discourse on campus by informing its readership and empowering community members to share diverse, well-supported perspectives with each other. Over the course of fall 2015, it became clear that our commentary section lacked crucial editorial provisions. This was largely because the section was run almost independently of the rest of The Herald. The silo between opinions and the majority of our news writing was put in place out of concern that integrating them would undermine the portions of the paper aiming for objectivity. But this strategy played out as simply lower standards for opinions, and we’ve implemented some major changes to the section since then in order to address that discrepancy in editorial rigor.

Before the opinions section was reformed, columnists often submitted pieces to opinions editors the day before publication. Unlike our news pieces, which are all edited in the office with the writer present, pieces were simply sent to editors online and edited without the writer present. Then, one of the editors of the news section would edit the piece without the opinions editor present. Now, columnists submit pieces to opinions editors a few days before they are to be published, and opinions editors provide a rigorous, conceptual critique. Columnists then revise the piece and edit it once more alongside an editor in the office. Finally, the editor-in-chief or managing editor reads the piece with the opinions editor. Sometimes, even at this stage, editors identify arguments that require clarification, and any significant conceptual changes are worked out with the writer. 

Additionally, we have reassessed the purpose of opinions pieces, especially those pertaining to sensitive or controversial issues. The purpose of such pieces is to facilitate and frame reasonable discussion among people of disparate views — something not very many publications do anymore. In the words of former New York Times Op-Ed Editor Trish Hall: “We want your thinking to win converts. I have had weeks where I have read op-eds that argue opposite positions. … They are both valid opinions, and if they are well presented, the reader will end up thinking, ‘That makes sense.’” We actively encourage opinions writers — especially when discussing a controversial topic — to empathize with and appeal to the other side instead of stoking the flames of disagreement.

Finally, we’ve revamped the production of our editorials, which represent the institutional view of The Herald. Previously, The Herald ran four editorials per week, and they were written by a group of students largely uninvolved in daily production. Editorials will now be published once per week and authored by The Herald’s editorial board, which runs The Herald’s day-to-day operations and leads the staff. These changes ensure that editorials are relevant and timely, as well as that they accurately represent the views of The Herald’s leadership.

Publishing opinions in The Herald’s pages comes with a great deal of power and responsibility. These changes have already led to commentary pages of higher quality, and we hope our commentary section will continue to improve over the course of the fall.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial board: Emma Jerzyk ’17, Joseph Zappa ’17, Andrew Flax ’17 and Caroline Kelly ’17. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

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