Alfaro: Handling opinions as the Opinion Editor

Mariana Alfaro , Opinion Editor

As Opinion Editor, this last quarter was interesting, to say the least.

I’m a trained reporter, but I decided to take over The Daily’s Opinion section as a way to explore an aspect of journalism I had never considered pursuing. I am not one to pass a good challenge. I had also heard that The Daily’s opinion section is, to quote some of our loyal readers, “trash.” Which, fine. Opinions aren’t meant to please everyone; that’s why they’re opinions, not facts. Sure, you can (and should) have factually correct opinions, but even then people will doubt you.

From this quarter of experimenting with the Opinion section, I’ve learned that staying on the news side of newspapers is, in a way, easier than balancing a spectrum of individual thoughts and rationalizations. Don’t get me wrong; journalism, good journalism, is still incredibly hard to do. But dealing with opinions — yours and other people’s — takes a special kind of effort that goes beyond news gathering. Also, publishing your opinion makes you pretty vulnerable, no matter how good, bad, hot or cold your take is.

Lin-Manuel Miranda once tweeted, “do NOT get stuck in the comments section of life.” That works, in theory. But, as Opinion Editor, you cannot, and should not ignore the comments. When you so publicly open your brain and thoughts to other people’s exploration — becoming vulnerable — you also open yourself to their criticism and views. Some of the feedback I got this quarter was really sweet, encouraging and comforting. Most, however, was not. And for that, I am thankful. It only helped make me stronger.

Professional reporters I’ve talked to in the last year have told me that these are weird times to join the journalism industry. They haven’t said this in a discouraging way. Far from it, they’ve said it in a “hey, this is a golden era for journalism” kind of way. But “fake news” has continued to be an issue, and we’ve seen name-calling and attacks on journalists not only here, but abroad. So deciding to work in a newsroom instead of taking some other media job — marketing, PR, consulting — can seem like an odd choice to many. Why would you want to keep up with what other people think when sometimes even your own mind can be difficult to follow?

I can’t really explain the logic behind what drives me to reporting. Call it a love for the job, call it a love for interviewing and picking people’s brains. I didn’t get a chance to do the former much this quarter, but I sure did get a chance to do the latter. I got to talk to people whose opinions are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum as mine, I got to see how they rationalized their thoughts, and somehow came to understand (most of the time) how they came to those conclusions. I didn’t necessarily agree, but I could at least trace their train of thought. I also got to see the good, the bad and the ugly of online commenters, which in all honesty is good training for the long career in journalism I hope to have after graduating from Medill.

But it shouldn’t take a job as an Opinion Editor to put yourself in a place where you can hear and analyze other people’s opinions. We’ve all discussed the whole “bubble” problem most of us are in: that bubble where we seemingly can’t run into opinions that differ from our own, the bubble that many blame for the results of the 2016 election. The freaking bubble. Many think that Northwestern is such a liberal bubble you can’t easily find anyone who has opinions different than your own. If I learned anything from running the Opinion section is that you’re wrong.

What I’m trying to say is: Please go out of your way and find an opinion different from your own. These debates play out better when they’re had in person and not behind a computer screen, as long as you maintain a civilized amount of respect, and as long as you keep others’ feelings and identities in mind. Sometimes you’ll be able to understand where the other person’s rationalization is coming from and get a peek into how they view the world. Sometimes you won’t, and you’ll feel frustrated but hey, at least you tried. Can’t go around changing everybody’s minds.

It’s really easy to have opinions when you’re not airing them out for the world to judge. Once they’re on a platform, seeing them get dragged can be a hit to your ego. However, this was an experience that made me not only grow stronger and more informed, but also helped me better understand those whose brains rationalize things differently than mine. I am ready to go back to reporting, but this is an experience I’ll never forget and will carry on in my career.

Thanks for letting me voice my thoughts on the pages of this newspaper and for the lovely — and unlovely — feedback. It only made me a better writer.

Mariana Alfaro is a Medill senior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.