2001-04-21 / Columnists

Guest Editorial Why I Dislike Op-Ed Columns

By Timothy Aaron-Styles

Guest Editorial
Why I Dislike Op-Ed Columns

Well, maybe "dislike" is too strong of a word. When and if I think of a more appropriate one, I will let you know.

Besides, I don’t really dislike ALL op-ed columns nor do I dislike the journalistic concept or theory of Op-Ed’s. Methinks that these newspaper departments, along with Public/Community Access Television, serve as opportunities for the purest forms of intellectual and ideological democracy in media.

I have written op-ed columns in Atlanta, South Carolina, Bermuda and, lest we fall among those practitioners of convenient amnesia, "Point of View in Color" (1995-98) was this newspaper’s first op-ed column written by a person of color.

No, I like op-ed columns. It’s just that I have been spoiled. My criteria for judging the value of op-ed writers have been influenced by those who grace the pages of The Village Voice, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the nation’s second best alternate weekly, the Atlanta-based Creative Loafing.

So many op-ed columns, if they are not nationally syndicated, in small towns, neighborhoods or villages, tend to be written by—well just about anyone who has an---you guess it---an opinion!

Not that I am adverse to opinions or anyone having the right to express their opinions. You’re reading mine right now. It’s just that opinions are like ears—everyone has at least one. Whether they are well thought out, intelligent, truth, factual or valid is another question.

The problem is that opinionists have become people who believe that THEIR opinions are gospel, divinely sanctioned---scientific. My challenge with op-ed columns in small towns, neighborhoods or villages is that anyone can just become an op-ed columnist and lay claim to being a journalist. No matter how much they lack the personal or professional experience, credentials or social, political, academic or political training or exposure.

Small town op-ed columnists can take themselves way too seriously and become self-righteous and arrogant. Too self-important. Get the big head (i.e. if they didn’t start off with an oversized cranium in the first place) until the ever-increasing big head grows and grows and grows and eventually implodes.

Having traveled to many cities and small towns (and even in other countries), many small town op-ed columns have gone the way of the television talk show genre where sensationalism, entertainment, mental masturbation, self-absorbing and ego-gratifying babbling (disguised as intellectual discourse), reign supreme.

Small town op-ed columns committed to quality high journalism, intellectualism and real ideological analysis are rare and as hard to find as Donahue, Midday Live, and The Dick Cavett Show, which have been replaced by television talk shows hosted by individuals who bring less to the table of "high journalism and communications savvy."

There are too many pages of community newspapers throughout the nation filled by scribes who are not journalists, but individuals who simply like to write, complain or "see their names in print."

Imagine if many of the self-proclaimed, or too easily embraced, "opinion shapers" where actually veterans of somebody’s newsroom, journalism classroom or television studios.

Not only would the journalistic integrity and value of community newspapers increase, but the residents of the respective communities would actually be enlightened and educated toward REAL individual and collective transformation and progress.

It’s like the commonly held notion in the Black community that there is a difference between a "preacher" and a "teacher." One appeals to the emotions and the other transforms the mind---the thought process. It is written that "As a man thinketh, so he is." Your life becomes what you think and what you hold in your mind and not what you feel. Consciousness determines reality.

So, you wanna be an op-ed columnist? No problem. Approach your local, community newspaper. They need the copy to fill the pages.

But for those of you who desire to take on the larger mission of becoming a journalist or media expert take my advice: pay some dues. Live. Study. Travel. Learn at the feet of some masters.

Then again, this is only my opinion. And it’s like two ears....


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