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0 comments | Friday, September 14, 2007

What constitute a good newspaper column? Is it the author's stance and conviction? Is it the current critical issue discussed in the column? Should a columnist be allowed to just write about anything for as long as the article is within the bounds of decency? But how is decency defined?

As of this writing, I am having a bout regarding this freedom of speech/expression with one of the Collegian editors, after she rejected my weekly article due to reasons too wishy-washy. I haven't met her in person yet. She is a new staff and probably too excited to do her first "rejection" responsibility. But I am sure "kakain pa siya ng maraming bigas" [she'll never get this, I hope. LOL] to fully appreciate controversial societal articles.

I am printing her letter verbatim:

Dear Eric,
Thank you for the article that you submitted for the second edition of The Collegian. Unfortunately the article will not run this week. I would like you to re-write it and submit it to me again next week for publication.

The reasons why I, and the editor-in-chief, decided not to run the article are as follows:
1. The article sounds too much like a personal attack on the Brookings Community. Don’t get me wrong, your piece is good and I am not trying to minimize your instances of discrimination, but try to work it so that you state your points without putting readers on the defensive. Try being more diplomatic. Most people shut down and won’t listen when they feel that they are being attacked verbally.
2. The 6 out of 10 statistic that you quote in your article needs to have a reference. Did you read that information somewhere or are you just picking random numbers? Again, don’t get me wrong, I do want you to include your experiences with discrimination–like when the elderly lady clutched her purse close to her when you came and sat down beside her. That is personal and powerful and I feel will make the reader stop and think about how they may be interacting with others within their community. But if you are going to quote stats. You need to have a source.
3. The article could be made better by telling your readers what you think could be done to solve the problem or at least help improve the situation. Its ok to be critical of things that happen in and around your world, but it is helpful to try to offer possible solutions. It also shows the reader that you have put some real thought into the issue and that you are not just writing out of anger and frustration. And its ok to be angry and frustrated, but anger never solved anything. Action does.
4. The reason I am giving you a week and not having you re-write it today is that I would like you to think more about the article before you submit it again. Your piece is good, but you can make it more powerful by being less aggressive toward your readers. You want to capture their attention and you want them to listen to you–not alienate them.
Please take my criticism as constructive. I think your work is good and I would like you to continue to write for The Collegian. If you wish to discuss this further or have any questions please feel free to e-mail me or call me. I will be here in the office all night tonight (605) 688-6159.

Thank you and I look forward to reading your re-written article.

Opinion Editor


I have been writing critical articles and attacking people on important issues since I started the "Foreign Eyes" column last year. This rejection isn't just right. Ergo, I responded.

Hi,

I just waited for my class to finish so I could properly elaborate what I had written and why.

I think what I had written was based on my thinking about freedom of expression through column writing. I don’t think I have violated any journalism ethics and standards, have I? Or was it obscene?

I would admit that the article was critical and many may be offended by what I wrote. But that is normal for a columnist, especially if the columnist takes a strong stance on something. I love being critical and, based on previous experiences when I was still writing back home, the masses like reading columnists who defy what is ordinary and pass judgment on real life people – not just write nameless concepts and policies. For as long as I don’t go overboard as to libel anyone, the column will only be interestingly controversial.

There is no need to be diplomatic. We write not to please anyone. We write because it is happening and it is our responsibility to make it known, even if it hurts. Freedom of speech/expression is not absolute and I know that fully well. But I know as well that I am still within the bound.

I write with conviction. Whatever I put forward is my opinion, a viewpoint that I truly believe in. If argument is necessary, I can argue my case with conviction too. I tied it to some of my personal experiences, making the topic more real and relevant and easy to defend, if the need calls.

Regarding my “6 out of 10 statistics”, I accompanied it with facts that support my position. I wasn’t just picking random numbers as you pointed out. The statistics was derived from observations I did for the last 10 months or so [after my first bad experience], observing every people I met in Brookings and tallying them. Thus,
I do not have to quote anyone from anywhere. I am my own source.

I learned in my writing class long ago that, generally, people don’t like to hear the soft side. We need to be hard-hitting or even be egotistical to an extent. That is how it should be. To quote what the editor-in-chief, Jenna Mann, wrote last week “We will do our best to deliver to you the REAL stories about life in Brookings and at SDSU, no matter who tries to keep us quiet.”

If we continue reading the article, she mentioned giving the readers the current and controversial social issues so that they, the readers, could make informed decision. It is clear that we should make the public decide what they think about the issues and not us to decide for them. Thus, we should not curtail info. If we curtail
information because we want to feed their desires, then we aren’t the “voice of the people”. I want the public to know that it is happening, and if being traightforward isn’t becoming more powerful, I don’t know how you'd do it.

I am taking all what you said as constructive criticisms, which I normally do. Exchanging thoughts like this between writers is always healthy. Maybe your experience as a writer or the themes of articles you write don’t exactly overlay with mine, yet we both work on a common ground, with the same purpose, that is to serve SDSU and the people of Brookings who read The Collegian. In that case, we could find a place to agree.

I already submitted the revised piece just before your set deadline of 3PM. Hope it gets printed this week.

Thanks for the letter and I am happy working with you this semester.

Eric


The second edition of the Collegian came out two days ago without my "revised" article. I was so disappointed. Still am.

I sent her another letter but she hasn't replied yet. Maybe she's feeling a sense of guilty responsibility or a personal pain and anguish for doing a thoughtless job as an editor!

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