Introduction to the Editorial

Amelia Boulware
Cretin-Derham Hall High School
St. Paul, Minnesota

Overview and Rationale
I teach this unit in a one-trimester introduction to journalism course. It is the last of three articles that students write, after the news story and feature. After eight weeks of discussion about the protocol for news and feature writing, students need to investigate how editorials are different. They need practice writing “information + opinion.” I also introduce some rhetorical strategies to help them with their logic.

Goals for Understanding
This unit is designed to engage students in answering the following questions accurately:

  • What are the qualities of the editorial in all its forms?
  • What is the editorial writer’s purpose?
  • What is the role of the editorial in the news publication? What is its relationship to news and feature stories?
  • What is the role of the editorial in the school news publication?
  • How do you pick a subject for an editorial?
  • How do you write an editorial? What should be avoided?

This unit usually takes about two weeks for me. Depending on your school day or the number students in your class, it may take more or less time.


Step One

  • Share several editorials with your students. I like to make sure they see several kinds: student-written (from your school news publication if possible), letter to the editor, well-known columnist or editorial written by an expert in their field.
  • Read and discuss the material. I give them some directions to begin analyzing this form. This could be done in small groups and then shared as a class, creating a list on the board.
    • Point out the factual information
    • Point out the opinion or message
    • Identify the tone of the writing
    • Advanced: Note how the writing (sentence structure, word choice) and organization differ from news writing and organization

Step Two

  • I ask the question: What is the role of the editorial (in all its forms)? You can tailor this discussion for the size and level of your class. You can share some ideas by great thinkers relating to the role of the press.
  • I then focus the question: What is the role of the editorial in a high school news publication? You could have students write an informal written response to hand in or share.

Step Three

  • The related assignment (Thumbnail Editorials) is to help the students focus on the “information + opinion” format by doing it over and over again, but briefly.
  • Before they begin this exercise, I explain that we will discuss their work as a group. In fact, when the time arrives, I ask them to consider sharing their favorite, most effective thumbnail editorial. Because the students generate 11 mini-editorials, they might see some patterns in their approach.
    • Do they take a stand or avoid one?
    • Do they include factual information, or err on the side of hasty generalizations?
    • What is the tone of their writing?
  • I then transition into a discussion of the purpose, tone and organization of a longer and more formal editorial.
  • We also talk about the role of humor. If time and the level of the group permits, I introduce them to a number of errors in logic, so that they might write more persuasively.
  • Errors in logic:
    • Post hoc, ergo propter hoc
    • Non-sequitur
    • Hasty generalizations and stereotypes
    • Unreliable authority
    • Ad hominem
    • Only-cause fallacy
    • Either-or fallacy
    • Begging the question

Step Four

  • Time to work on an editorial of their own! This can proceed in whatever way works best for your style, students, time, etc.
  • First, I ask them to come to class with three possible topics, each accompanied by a statement of purpose for an editorial (I want to tell my audience ______ and this is why it’s important:______.)
  • I remind them to take into consideration how much research they will have to do. As adults, we know how seductive it is rant about topics about which we are ill-informed. Students want to do the same thing. Research requires a quick lesson or review about where to find good information. (I’m not going to enumerate the steps of that process here. I do give clear perimeters, to narrow the field. For instance: recent news publication or magazine – not more than two years old, or from a government Web site.)
  • When they arrive with their three topics, I meet with them individually. I help them to pick the best topic of the three, and help them clarify the purpose, if needed. I have found this input on my part to be a crucial step in helping them write effective, engaging editorials.
  • When they know their topic and purpose, I share with them Eric Stern’s checklist, “How to Write Opinion” page 209, “Introduction to Journalism,” McDougal Littell, 2001. You could also easily create your own.

Then I ask them to begin writing. I usually give three or four class periods for this, which allows me to meet with each student at least once. Before I collect their final copy, I ask them to show me what they’ve got a second time. I either sign off or show them what needs work. When I collect their final copy, I have them evaluate themselves by answering the following questions directly on their papers:

  • What is the purpose of your editorial? Write it out or point out a statement in your essay.
  • Put a check in the margin by the facts and information you provide.
  • Put a smiley face next to statements of your opinion.
  • In a sentence, sum up your tone as you think your readers will perceive it.
  • How did writing the editorial go for you?
  • What did you do well? What was challenging? What one thing did you learn that you won’t forget?

Recommended References
Depending on your experience, I recommend consulting the chapter on editorials in any recent textbook. I like “Scholastic Journalism,” Iowa State University Press, or “Introduction to Journalism,” McDougall Littell, 2001.

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