Joe Capehart on Opinion Writing

Every morning, Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Joe Capehart  looks forward to separating the wheat from the chaff. As an opinion writer  for the The Washington Post, the job gives him a lot of freedom, and along with it comes immense responsibility.

I listened  to Joe’s take on opinion writing earlier this evening in  Washington, D.C. and here are a few key points:

  1. The real opinion writer gets abundant freedom to look at different sides of a story. Then, comes the hard part. They have to squeeze out valid points and frame an opinion that makes sense to their readers.
  2. In opinion writing, taking sides is a difficult choice. One needs to argue the facts before selecting a path. Sometimes, opinion writers find that both sides have good points and in that case they will need to present both sides of the argument.
  3. Opinion writers work a lot like reporters-they have their news sources, they gather facts and data.
  4. So, what separates a straight news journalist from an opinion writer? Opinion writers get the freedom to go beyond the 5W’s and H (who, what when, where, why and how?).
  5. Will straight news writers like becoming opinion writers? Sometimes, but with much difficulty.
  6. Opinion writing plays a critical role as it often helps shape the politics of the day.



Writing for page views: Tips from Steve Rubel

As a young copy editor working for New Delhi-based Patriot two decades ago, I never imagined a day when machines would take over the unique powers of a copy editor. We ruled over reporters, decided content and our headlines woke readers up every morning.

Fast forward twenty years- journalists write for machines that give overrides to word choices and remind them that some words get better page views. These translate into  greater job security and a better bottomline.  Machines select  headlines, insert slugs and feed searches that attract readers. Writers are told to use the word fashion instead of style as search engines rank fashion higher.

Amid this changing media landscape, hearing  Steve Rubel last week was refreshing. Rubel is EVP, Global Strategy for Edelman, the world’s largest independent PR company. He was speaking at my alma mater, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communications.

According to Rubel, thankfully, three things still exist:

  1. Our time and attention are finite
  2. We love good stories- stories bind us as a culture
  3. Content is king

Rubel introduced Edelman’s new concept named “Transmedia Storytelling: The Media Cloverleaf” that will help PR practitioners keep stories alive for a longer time.  This is an inter-connected model that involves traditional media, hybrid, social media and company-owned media. According to Rubel, it is now an Anglo model being used in the U.S. and some parts of Europe. However,  some of its concepts are applicable in other geographies too. 

Rubel asks practitioners to create content that is visual and worth sharing and video, infographics and slideshows are very important. Writing needs a lot of advanced planning these days. So, before crafting a story, find out how, where and when the story should be told. Here’s a PowerPoint that describes key points from Rubel’s talk.