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Effective Opinion Journalism Blends Emotion, Facts

Mar 17, 2017

There seems to be no shortage of opinionated voices in today’s media.

On cable TV, where pundits and politicians seem to spar around the clock, you could say it's overwhelming. But that’s not the case for American newspapers, where opinion pages are becoming endangered.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently eliminated all but one of its weekday editorial pages, following similar steps taken by papers from Fort Lauderdale to Chicago. The Association of Opinion Journalists actually shut down a year ago.

Cutbacks in the number of people working at newspapers, a decline in the number of editorials published by newspapers and fewer readers are just a few reasons behind the declines, said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

There’s also been a shift in the type of information available to readers, she said.

“It’s become much more personal experience and opinion and also a lot more emotion in that information,” she said. “If you compare that with traditional editorial voice in newspapers. What we see is that consumers do not gravitate to that very formal editorial voice. People are looking for personal connection.”

This is happening at a time when opinion media on talk radio, cable news networks and on the internet is more popular than ever.

“We have learned that appetite for the personal opinion and emotion is so much bigger than we imagined,” she said.

It’s naive to think the more popular opinion pieces are devoid of substance, McBride said. The most effective opinion pieces are much more intellectually accessible than dry logical arguments, using personal story or attaching emotion to the argument.

“Don’t presuppose that informed opinion must be devoid of emotion and that emotional argument must be devoid of facts,” she said.

Consumers will be most easily be able to identify opinion that fails to include emotions AND facts when it’s a point of view they disagree with philosophically. A sophisticated consumer is one who can spot an ineffective opinion piece on a subject that resonates with you, but doesn’t leave you fulfilled, she said.