Letter from an editor: The purpose of Opinion

Pallas Gutierrez, Opinion Editor

In June, I wrote what I thought would be my farewell to the Opinion section and The Daily Northwestern. I enjoyed my time as a columnist and assistant opinion editor, but there were times I felt out of place in the newsroom: I’m not a Medill student, so I didn’t understand the shared classes and jokes my fellow editors had, and I wasn’t sure that I was qualified to write for any desk other than Opinion. I planned on leaving The Daily to give myself time to pursue theatre, but I also didn’t think anyone cared if I came back. I was wrong. In June, our editor-in-chief, Troy Closson, encouraged me to apply to be Opinion editor for fall quarter. Bolstered by his encouragement, I applied, and I was thrilled when I was invited to be co-editors with Priyanshi Katare.

As I was reading applications for Opinion columnists this summer, I realized the essential role the Opinion section played in my life, the paper, and Northwestern. I initially started writing for Opinion mainly because I wanted to pick my own stories, and Opinion provided the space for that. But a year working for the Opinion desk had changed my view of the importance and purpose of this desk.

I used to be the kind of person that asks, “Why is there an opinion section in the newspaper? News is supposed to be objective, and Opinion clearly isn’t. It doesn’t belong.” I quickly learned that Opinion is vital to a newspaper. Nothing is completely objective. Even statistics, which are sometimes held up as the most objective facts journalists can utilize, can be warped. Every person has a viewpoint, and that viewpoint translates to things that a person creates, like articles and essays.

Opinion makes no secret of the fact that the pieces aren’t objective, and the author only claims to represent themselves. At the bottom of every Opinion piece is the sentence, “The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.” This freedom from representing all staff members allows writers to share their non-mainstream and sometimes controversial opinions, as well as personal stories. Being able to represent individuals allows opinion to provide a forum for debate and marginalized voices.

In a ranking of the most liberal college campuses in the United States, Business Insider put NU at No. 22 last year. As a result, The Daily and the Opinion section often lean liberal. As editor, I am committed to publishing pieces that give a complete survey of political views on this campus. Does that mean the section will still often lean left? Yes, because the campus does. But Opinion’s role is to provide a space for everyone to state their opinions and the reasons they hold them.

Political diversity is only one type of diversity which I hope to highlight and discuss in this section. In November 2018, Pew Research found that newsroom employees were less diverse than the American workforce overall. 77 percent of newsroom employees are white, rather than 65 percent of all U.S. workers. 61 percent of newsroom employees are men, who only represent 53 percent of workers. White men represent 48 percent of newsroom employees, but only 34 percent of the total workforce. Statistics are harder to find on LGBTQIA+ journalists, which makes their lack of inclusion even harder to address. A lack of diversity leads to stories falling through the cracks because they are dismissed as unimportant, or skewed by a lack of knowledge about the history and context.

In Opinion, we work against these trends. All of the four opinion editors in my time at The Daily have held various marginalized identities in terms of gender, sexuality, race, and socioeconomic status. As a result, articles dealing with diversity and issues that may not have received coverage otherwise have appeared in our section. Former Opinion Editor Marissa Martinez wrote about multilingualism and the importance of black journalists. Former Opinion Editor Andrea Bian wrote about the lack of women of color on the Medill faculty. As a columnist and assistant editor, I wrote “50 Years of Queer Anger,” a series about queer issues today. Opinion columnists and contributors have written about eating disorders, diversity on television and problems with brands like Victoria’s Secret. These are issues that may not receive front page news coverage, but are still important to consider and discuss. I’m glad the Opinion section has been able to serve as that forum.

Still, I know there is more diversity on our campus than represented in our pages. As reported in The Daily Northwestern’s 2019 Diversity Report, 11.8 percent of staffers at The Daily identify as low-income, and 13.2 percent are first-generation college students. Issues affecting FGLI students are usually limited to the Campus section, as sharing personal stories about these sensitive topics can be intimidating. Disability issues are also extremely underrepresented at The Daily, both on staff and in our coverage. I hope to give people who need the space to discuss these issues that space right here in the Opinion section.

I look forward to spending this quarter improving the diversity of voices represented in the Opinion section. Our new writers, who are a combination of first-year and returning students new to The Daily, will surely bring some new ideas, and, as always, we are always open to Letters to the Editor and pieces by one-time contributors.

Pallas Gutierrez is a Communication sophomore. They can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, 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.