What it means to be an op-ed columnist

Writing opinions necessitates thoughtful, tactful critiques.

by Jasper Johnson

Last week, C.J., a columnist at the Star Tribune, made national news for her criticism of KARE 11 reporter Jana Shortal’s attire while she was reporting on the Jacob Wetterling case.

Like many people, I found her remarks to be completely out of place. But it also made me think about where I find myself as a writer. As an opinion columnist, I thought I’d share a few personal rules I try to follow that ensure my pieces are respectful while still being contrarian or controversial.

Here are a few tenets:

1. Whenever possible, try to focus on ideas rather than people. Try to address what’s flawed in behaviors or ideologies, as opposed to an individual.

2. If you do choose to criticize

people, focus on public figures. Think religious figures and politicians as opposed to local folks, unless there is some serious wrongdoing that needs to be put in the spotlight. And please, leave your prejudices out of the discussion.

3. Do your research and try to understand commonly held arguments — this will ensure your argument is balanced.

4. Never write in an attempt to self-validate. I know I’ve made this mistake before, but public pieces of writing that are actually thinly-veiled justifications of one’s personal life will come across as weak and pointless.

5. Lastly, try to focus on topics you’re passionate about. Generally you will have the most experience and expertise in these areas and will be more productive to any given discourse.

Of course these are all personal rules and I have no expectation that others will follow them, but I hope that each writer puts real thought into forming their own arguments. It helps keep your writing consistent, and allows you to center your voice.

Jasper Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected]