CMM Special Series: What Do Student Journalists Want to Learn More About Journalism? (Part 11)

During his recent efforts to help plan programming for the fall 2015 ACP/CMA National College Media Convention — the world’s largest annual gathering of student journalists and their advisers and profs — David Simpson wanted to hear more from the students themselves. Specifically, he was curious: In these changing times, what do potential student attendees want to get most from a journalism conference experience? So Simpson, a revered veteran journalist and director of student media at Georgia Southern University, reached out to me with his student-first query. I in turn reached out to the summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellows — an elite crew of current and recent student journalists.

For this CMM special series, 14 Fellows offer their perspectives, ideas and advice centered on a single question: What topic, tech tool, news beat, skill-set or current event would you love to learn more about, lead a session on or help debate during a journalism convention? Their answers run the gamut — touching on everything from science journalism and Snapchat to sexual assault coverage and workflow management.

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What Do Student Journalists Want to Learn More About Journalism?
Part 11: ‘The Role of the Opinion Section’

By Griffin Guinta, University of Tampa

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

I would love to dissect the role of the opinion section in a college newspaper. On the surface, the section’s expectations seem pretty straightforward: to offer opinions on pertinent and controversial issues with a clearly rooted stance, while also ensuring topical, campus-related issues are adequately voiced.

The role of an opinion editor/writer certainly goes even beyond those aforementioned parameters, especially because the section isn’t necessarily bound by news-section-type constraints. This enhanced freedom comes with responsibility, though, as opinion editors must ensure that their section’s content is not a soapbox for all of their own beliefs, but rather a fact-driven platform that conveys well-constructed opinions.

I’ve seen this “soapbox” method not only in my own campus newspaper, but in college media across the country. Our generation has a tendency to overreact on certain issues and gravitate towards what seems to be the “popular” stances, thus producing unbalanced content. To clarify, there’s nothing wrong with having a distinct opinion grounded in fact, but far too often I’ve observed one-sided, personal digs.

Back when Dan Reimold [Dan note: Hey, that’s me!] was The Minaret’s faculty adviser, he would always stress, “There are seven or eight sides to a story.” He’s right. One should always seek out every possible angle when mounting a firm stance, especially on an issue with tremendous weight.

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The Minaret Perspectives issue, published in February.

Because I am no opinion expert, however, I’d like to learn more about the recipe for a successful, balanced section. My proposed convention session would contain three main elements: 1) A panel featuring several professional journalists who are acclaimed for being fair and fact-driven. 2) Examples of extreme bias or one-sidedness in college media. 3) Ways to remedy issues like sensationalism, emotion-driven arguments and unnecessary political assertions.

Ultimately, bias will always exist in the media world — it’s impossible for it not to. But it is within our capabilities to stave off knee-jerk reactions and the impulse to churn out hollow articles simply because we want to be the first to report on it or because we want to piggyback off a trending headline.

I challenge everyone, especially myself, to constantly be vigilant before hitting the publish button. As we’ve learned from Manti Te’o (the football player who fabricated a story about his dying ex-girlfriend) and Kony 2012, it’s always safest to wait for all the facts to surface, have several sets of eyes analyze them and then craft a thoroughly researched, logical, educated statement in response.

Griffin Guinta is a rising senior at the University of Tampa, where he double majors in writing and communication. He is editor-in-chief of The Minaret. He is also a summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

Check out other parts of this CMM special series

Part 1: ‘The Interesting Important & the Important Interesting’ by Danielle Klein, University of Toronto

Part 2: ‘Best Practices, Pros, Cons & Even Some Mistakes’ by Emma Discher, Tulane University

Part 3: ‘Fresh Ideas & Fresh Blood’ by Sami Edge, University of Oregon

Part 4: ‘The Way We Edit & Upload Stories’ by Ali Swenson

Part 5: ‘So You Want to Make a Tabloid Newspaper?’ by Claire Dodson, University of Tennessee

Part 6: ‘An Independent Student Newspaper?’ by Kyle Walker, University of Tulsa

Part 7: ‘How to Present Data in the Most Compelling Way’ by Nizia Alam, University of Texas at Tyler

Part 8: ‘Student Media Consumption Habits’ by Matt Lemas, University of Southern California

Part 9: ‘How Can a Student Make It Different?’ by Nicole Brown, New York University

Part 10: ‘A Closer Look at Periscope’ by Angela Christaldi, Saint Joseph’s University

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