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Preaching to the Choir

"Don't think of your goal as picking a fight with people who enrage you. Instead, try swaying the opinion of a reasonable person who sees the merits of both sides."
--Editorials

I think Dr. Jerz hit the nail right on the head with this one. It always irks me when I see editorials that are written like this, because they do absolutely nothing for either side of an issue. If you write in a combative way, you're bound to make people who disagree with you angry; therefore, the people who agree with you will still have the same opinion, and the people who don't will be even more vehemently opposed to what you believe. I don't understand what the point of preaching to the converted is in this kind of situation. There are some times where it can be useful for certain groups to reaffirm their beliefs by clearly articulating them, but in widely read newspapers it seems like the ultimate goal is to reach out to people who don't already agree with you. If you never consider opposing points of view, all you do is create more friction where you ought to be reducing it. I think some people do like to make their readers angry, mainly for publicity reasons. Ann Coulter is a writer who immediately comes to mind when I think of editorialists who make blunt statements seemingly just to get attention. You can't really publish a book called Godless: The Church of Liberalism and expect people who identify themselves as liberal to read the book with an open mind. Certainly, liberal people may read that book, but usually not because they want to engage in an intelligent dialogue with people they disagree with, but just because the title makes them angry. Stirring people up just for the purpose of making your column more widely read doesn't seem to be the noblest aspiration. Like all news writing, I think it's important to remember that the writing shouldn't be about the writer, but about the subject being covered. So, even though you're presenting your opinion, you still need to maintain some degree of objectivity and not make your column an irrational rant--save it for the blogs!

Comments (5)

Josie Rush:

Matt- Exactly. It always amazes me when a person's persuasion slips from passionate to maliciously vehement. This is yet *another* case of remembering your audience. Yes, people who agree with you will read your article, but they already agree with you. Obviously. It's the people who disagree with you that you need to convince, not drive away with name-calling and rash generalizations. Keeping in mind audience and purpose will stop us from using journalism as a pedestol to air our grievances and complaints.

Greta Carroll:

Matt, you make an excellent point. Why preach to the choir? As you commented, “Like all news writing, I think it's important to remember that the writing shouldn't be about the writer, but about the subject being covered.” If we chose to angrily rant, we are probably either doing it (a) for attention, or (b) to makes ourselves feel good and to get reaffirmation that our “side” is right. What you said really points out why these things are erred in news writing. News writing is meant to inform and should not be about the author. I think this is a reason why conflict of interest is important. Granted, editorials are not the same as a regular article in the paper, but I still think that if you are so passionately involved with something that you can’t see other sides of the issue, you shouldn’t be writing about it (even if it is an editorial). Everyone needs to release stem sometimes, but a newspaper is not the place. As you suggest, “save it for the blogs!” The goal should be to get others to see things in a more complex way, to think about other “sides,” even if they don’t join them.

Jeanine O'Neal:

I think I would have to disagree with this point that Josie made: "Yes, people who agree with you will read your article, but they already agree with you."

Alot of people listen to opposing views for the same reason they listen to the views of people they agree with: to get riled up.

Take Rush Limbaugh for instance. Who really listens to him because they agree with him?

Matt Henderson:

Great comments, everyone! Jeanine, you bring up a good point--there are many pundits and people who write columns who just want to make people angry, and people pay attention to them because they want to reaffirm how right they are by listening to extreme people on the opposite side. It's easy to hold on to liberal views when listening to someone as obnoxious as Rush Limbaugh (sorry if anyone likes him, I'm just not very fond of him) because he's purposely pushing buttons. This doesn't engage the listener in an intellectual way, and it certainly doesn't do much for people who are of a similar political persuasion. Conservative people often say they don't like Limbaugh because he is a bad representation of their views. I think your ideal audience when writing an editorial isn't people who already agree or disagree with you, it's people who have an open mind. Writers should encourage this in their audience, instead of reinforcing beliefs they already have.

Josie Rush:

Jeanine, my point is that you're not trying to convince people who already agree with you. Really, how could you--they already share your view. Even if someone reads Limbaugh's pieces and already agree with him, than Limbaugh's purpose is not to persuade the reader of anything, because he/she already agrees with the point of the article. Matt puts it best when he says, "your ideal audience when writing an editorial isn't people who already agree or disagree with you, it's people who have an open mind."

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