I’m not sure when it happened in American life, but I can say it has: few young people any longer know what an editorial is or why it is important to know what one is. I suppose this bit of ready cultural knowledge seems obsolete in a media saturated era when even “straight” new organizations like Fox and MSNBC show clear biases and sell news as entertainment. One could argue that in our present internet-television-radio synergistic, media saturated day-to-day, everything in “print” is an opinion.
Yet, I still find value in pointing out the distinction between opinion and news, at least in the traditional sense of newspaper journalism. (FYI - I find it interesting that the students who know what an editorial is when I poll my classes are the students who have taken Journalism.)
Heck, when I teach the distinction between news and editorial, I hold-up an actual print copy of the daily paper and demonstrate that the typeface and/or column width is different between the “Opinion” or “Editorial” section and the main body of the paper. I point out that historically newspaper publishers wanted readers to recognize an editor’s distinction in the daily paper between (hard) news and opinion or commentary.
I take a moment to point out the distinction in order to have a short dialogue about “voice” and “audience” -- two crucial components of teaching writing. I mention that for the next paper (The Editorial) students will be responding to an issue of choice in their “personal” voice to an audience of peers, just as major, traditional papers use their “editorial voice” for their readership/audience.
Once I have provided some background, it is time for students to begin collecting sample editorials. Again, as with their use of pulse.me, I am agreeable with almost all of their choices for reading, certainly, at least, on the exploratory level.
Yet, before they begin to locate and read editorials as models, I ask them to add a simple Goggle Doc table to their Drive for documenting their finds. I “push out” this Google Doc, and I ask students to make their own copy (File | Make a copy), so they will be able to edit and save. (As a quick reflection here, I find that creating a Doc and making it public then sharing the URL and asking students to make their own Drive-based copy is the easiest way to distribute “templates.”)
After they have their tables established and in a tab on the screen, I ask them to begin finding “good stuff.”
I limit the sources on the internet that I will “accept” as editorial examples to a handful of newspapers, and I provide links directly to the editorial/opinion/commentary pages of the source. Acceptable papers are:
These papers have a national and/or international reputation for excellence AND much of their content remains free. (In the past, I have promoted The Boston Globe too, but they have recently moved to a pay-to-read model.)
I provide several minutes for students to simply “poke around” and browse these six newspaper sites. As they do so, they are collecting URLs of favorite editorials -- ones they are interested in reading -- and documenting these on their Doc tables (see above).
After they have collected eight total, I ask them to raise their hand, so I can check their work. Generally, I provide a few “completion points” for a completed table. Once I have checked a student, I ask that he/she print his/her favorite editorial of the day. Then, later, I am able to skim through several paper copies of editorials in order to (1) get a rough sense of the type of reading students are interested in and (2) to have a nice stack of material from which to pull examples for close reading (which will be highlighted in a forthcoming lesson).