As someone who specializes in writing, I am called upon to write many things for clients – fact sheets, white papers, news releases, talking points, and the list goes on. But among the many things I might be asked to write, my favorite is an editorial.
An editorial, of course, expresses a point of view, an opinion, an argument. A well-written editorial can not only inform, but make complete sense to someone who knows nothing about the topic about which the editorial is written. And the best editorials can do that in about 600 words. (In fact, when I write an editorial, I always shoot for no more than 600 words – if I can’t make a coherent and sensible argument in that number of words, then I know I am not focused enough. If I have the luxury of using more words, I can always go back and add points that support my argument but are not essential.)
An effective editorial always starts at what Aristotle termed the point of consubstantiality – a point about which both sides agree (spoken arguments in public debate, the true meaning of ‘rhetoric,’ were the editorials of Aristotle’s day). For example, any two people would likely agree that there is too much congestion on the roads in Atlanta. But one person thinks public transportation should be the solution, while the other believes added road capacity makes more sense. A good editorial writer should be able to make either argument, and in a way that makes complete sense – so much sense that you may even change your mind. Changing opinions, after all, is the purpose of an editorial.
I find that a good editorial writer has the ability – if not always to change my mind – to at least help me become educated about a different point of view and the facts that support it. Writers that I find particularly good at doing that include George Will and E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post, Kimberly Strassel at the Wall Street Journal, and Joe Klein at Time. I also like Charles Krauthammer and Kathleen Parker.
You may notice that this list includes an equal number of writers on both the left and right of the political spectrum and ask if I have no political inclinations at all? Well, of course I do (and they are outside the scope of this post) – but that’s my point. These writers consistently craft well-written, coherent arguments that are as enlightening as they are convincing. They make me think and consider different points of view, to be better informed, regardless of whether I ultimately agree with them. That’s the art of the editorial.
Of course, as much as I like writing editorials, not every client needs one, and none that I write are published under my own name. Such is the nature of public relations writing. But when a client needs to make its case in a manner that is high-profile, thoughtful, and attracts an educated audience (and is more than 140 characters), the editorial page is often the place we seek to make it. And if I’ve done my job, 600 words later you’ll be a believer too.
Photo Credit: Garry Knight