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We are collecting tips from high school newspaper advisers nationwide on how to run student publications and deal with the issues from administrators, students and parents.

Opinion pages: A Brain Exercise

Opinion Pages: A Brain Exercise

Beth Shull, Director Arkansas Scholastic Press Association

What do you think? What do you think about? Questions not asked in news stories or center spread features. Opinion pages, on the other hand, offer readers a venue to think, and to express those thoughts. Want to increase reader interest? Create opinion pages that present relevant issues. Go beyond complaining about the cafeteria food and lack of school spirit. Delve into issues that really matter. What is important to your reader today, that will still be important next week and next month? Give readers a forum to express their opinions, and solicit those expressions. Operate with a philosophy of solving problems, rather than filling the space with complaints.

Staff editorial

Work as a staff, or at least as an editorial board, to present an issue or a problem and solution. Don’t assume the editor must always write this piece. Often called “the voice of the newspaper”, this unsigned editorial should express the agreement of most of the staff. It often presents an opinion on the main news item in that issue. A successful editorial stand can be stated in one sentence.

What if your staff doesn’t agree? Many papers are including two editorials — each expressing opposite views. Some present only the favored, or majority opinion, with a scorecard of how many agree and how many are opposed.

Traditionally this editorial is located in the top left corner of the page or double truck. It should be obvious to the reader that it is a staff editorial.

Staff columns

Sometimes humor pieces but not always, several staff members may write a column for each issue. These pieces should be insightful and, above all, interesting. The writer’s voice should be well developed. Avoid including an editor’s column just because she’s the editor. Choose the very best writing for each issue.

Guest columns and editorials

Invite those involved in current issues to write about them for your opinion pages. An occasional piece from the student council president may be appropriate; however, use these sparingly. You don’t want the newspaper to become a forum for public relations from your administration.

Letters to the editor

Once a paper starts presenting real issues, letters to the editor usually follow. If this hasn’t worked for you, ask an English or government teacher to allow ten minutes in class for students to write a letter in response to a campus or local community situation.

As a staff, establish a policy for including these letters. Will you include every letter? (Most professional newspaper include a representative few per topic.) Will you edit for space? Correct spelling? Correct grammar? Must the letter be signed? (Most scholastic papers require that the letter be signed; however, some withhold names on request.) Who can submit a letter? Students only? Teachers? Other community citizens? Newspaper staff members should not submit letters to the editor for print.

Surveys

Also known as person-on-the-street interviews, these informal pieces are a great way to solicit opinions from your school population. Simply pose a question and then print responses. Including photos of those responding brings visual life to the page. Be sure to include a fair representation of your school — grade, gender, race. As is true for any interview question, avoid “yes” and “no” responses by crafting thought provoking questions.

Editorial art

From the editorial cartoon to illustrations that accompany a column, art is a must for visually interesting opinion pages. Don’t be afraid to look outside of the journalism lab for an artist or two. Check with the school art department for recommendations. The artwork should be excellent quality. And don’t be afraid to include photos when appropriate. A photo of a chemical dumping truck being emptied near a local water supply lake would certainly tell a story.

Masthead

The opinion pages are the best place to run the newspaper masthead, which should include the flag, school name and complete address, staff, advertising contact information and editorial policy.