Martinez: Opinion section should try to move beyond limitations

Marissa Martinez, Assistant Opinion Editor

I applied to be assistant opinion editor Winter Quarter because a second leg surgery prevented me from walking anywhere to report, and I had dabbled in opinion during high school. Writing for the past two quarters has been a mixed bag: I have been able to share thoughts that are important to me, but I have also received more hateful comments and emails than ever before, often attacking my intelligence or ability to think.

While I don’t regret writing for this desk, its limitations have become clear, both in the context of Northwestern and society. I’ve learned a lot about opinion and its role in journalism.

This section must adhere to logistical requirements that affect our content. For instance, we generally have to publish two or three columns, four times a week, regardless of how many columns we have lined up. Unfortunately, we can’t always be selective with the pieces we publish, which leads to more half-hearted columns than I’d like. Additionally, we don’t have a large pool of consistent writers. It is difficult, especially around midterm and final seasons, to get people to commit to writing weekly.

In addition, we as editors need to ensure more hard facts are stated clearly in columns, as it is hard to argue with the truth. But when editorials and columns are published with little-to-no outside sourcing or with biased sourcing, we fail the audience by not giving them the basic knowledge needed to fully understand the writer’s point of view. It shouldn’t matter whether readers agree with a particular piece or not — there are essential, indisputable truths associated with every topic, and writers need to acknowledge them, no matter how much they prove our own experiences wrong.

On a broader scale, we do not publish as many diverse opinions as I would like. In terms of subjects, we tend to write about personal identity or political science, specifically foreign and domestic policy, more than anything. While this is a reflection of our writers’ passions and interests, there are so many other topics to be examined and broached. There are schools outside of Medill and Weinberg that hold incredible writers. There are identities we have not specifically sought out and represented properly.

And this matters. The Daily is trying to diversify, and while I applaud the genuine attempts made by senior staff members to improve and expand, we aren’t there yet. These efforts do not and should not only apply to our City or Campus sections — Opinion has the unique ability to offer people the opportunity to directly address the Northwestern community and Evanston at large. As editors, we need to make sure the messages we publish are truly reflective of the audiences we serve.

Many of the columns I write have to do with my personal experiences. I have a unique take on things like race, given my experiences as a multiracial woman, and I often explore these sides through my columns. I am proud to share my thoughts, regardless of how “controversial” they may seem.

However, there is a danger to painting experiences as global truths, something that is all too easy to do. As individuals, we can never let a single story stand for an entire group or community — even if the world expects underrepresented minorities like myself to provide these narratives. Through both working for this desk and my Peer Adviser training, I’ve had to remind myself that my experiences are my own, and we always have to acknowledge context and background.

Unfortunately, our section does not have a lot of room for true dialogue surrounding what we publish. Letters to the editor are a great way to include voices from students, alumni and members of the Evanston community. But sometimes, due to the inherent delay in publishing, the conversation is too disjointed to mean much.

As a result, the comment sections on Facebook and our website are where most of the discourse occurs. Comments allow for a quick way for people to interact with each other and bring in outside sources. But, as with any internet conversation, the comments can devolve — sometimes, it feels like a lot of people want to give the most snarky response or “edgy” meme without thoughtfully acknowledging the problems with any given column. From an editorial point of view, I encourage readers to submit columns of their own and put in the work to flesh out their valid thoughts, so there can be a record of dissenting thought.

Opinion has a lot of potential, but we are still confined by our limitations — both inevitable and self-imposed ones. It’s important to remember that there are a million sides to any story, and this section can never cover all of them, nor should we pretend to.

We cannot ignore these problems — Opinion is too important to the community. That’s why it’s essential that we constantly strive to improve the section, and that readers work with us and hold us accountable.

Marissa Martinez is a Medill freshman. 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.