In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Sept. 30, 2008 / 30 Elul 5768

The state of the editorial, or: A loss of faith

By Paul Greenberg

Printer Friendly Version
Email this article

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Every year I attend a national conference of editorial writers and listen to us deliver critiques of one another's work. It can be a dispiriting experience, especially when the editorial under the microscope is one's own. But one thing I've learned:

After the editorial being dissected has lost its news value, all that may remain is a desiccated husk — dry, brittle, the same old party line or empty stridency. But if the editorial being examined had more than news value, if it used the news of the day only as a jumping-off point to say something about the human condition, preferably something of depth and value, even of use and beauty, it still interests months, even years, later.

I like what a fiction writer named Nancy Mairs once said: "The trick, with this as with any genre, is to satisfy its requirements while escaping its confines." That's it. The reader's expectations of an editorial, however minimal, should be met. But it's a poor editorial that doesn't go beyond that minimal expectation.

An editorial should express an opinion — about a news event or a public figure or a local ordinance or even the weather — but go beyond the confines of its subject to say something about life in these times, or even first principles. Flaubert would have made a great editorial writer. He took a subject as common as an adulterous wife in a small town and made "Madame Bovary" out of it. He went beyond the confines of his subject.

The successful editorial, or even newspaper column, has gone to a second level. It is still alive long after it appeared in that most ephemeral of products, your daily newspaper.

Too drearily often, we who write editorials don't escape the confines of the form or the subject. Instead of thought, we offer ideology. Instead of laughter, just general irritation with the world. We who write them fail to break the bounds of the news we're writing about and let a revealing light in.

Routine is our deadliest enemy. It's as if editorial writers didn't dare risk a real, original idea. That would involve real work. So we wind up speechifying at a faceless audience instead of addressing a real reader. Or kicking a few platitudes around and calling it opinion.

To judge from the general tone of the conversation at this year's convention, the state of American editorial writing is ... well, it's been better. It's not just the economic crunch in which the newspaper business finds itself these days. It's not even the familiar problem of getting the younger generation to put down its cell phones and iPods long enough to read a newspaper. It's something more — a general malaise about the whole calling. A doctor would call it A Failure to Thrive.

What would really be new and enlivening at this depressing juncture in the history of American editorializing would be a return to the old: the old standards, old competencies, old revelations ... not in order to replace whatever's new today but to lend it some saving perspective.

Here's a word from the past: The late Grover C. Hall Jr. wrote editorials for the grand old Montgomery Advertiser in an era when Southern newspapers led all the rest because they had character, and characters. I've got an editorial of Mr. Hall's framed on my office wall. In it, he pointed out that editorial writers have got the grandest job in the world. So why not write like it?

In the end, what matters is what always mattered: the words, the words, the words. And what's really the matter with editorial writing is a loss of faith — in words, in the power they represent, and in our power to use them. Or to let them use us. For the best thought has an irresistible power of its own.

The surest symptom of our malaise is the various cures recommended for the sad state of the American editorial. Some are familiar panaceas, the kind that have never worked but are rolled out every year as if they were brand new. For example, somebody always suggests that we start signing our editorials. Yes, we're talking about the same editorials we write, rewrite, edit, talk about, and then have our publisher approve — if the publisher didn't suggest the editorial in the first place. So how many names would we have to sign at the bottom of each editorial? At that rate, the byline would be longer than the editorial.

More to the point, the whole notion of a signed editorial is a contradiction in terms. For then the editorial would no longer represent the newspaper's opinion but an individual's. Why not just write a signed column and be done with it? Start signing editorials and the idea that the newspaper has an opinion, a personality, a tradition and continuous history of its own would become just a formality.

Then there are those who believe that, to restore this patient's old vitality, what's required is a technological fix. Maybe turn the editorial column into a community forum, a kind of electronic bulletin board. (In that case, what would Letters to the Editor be for?) Or transform the editorials into blogs. But that's not writing, it's talking.

There ought to be something premeditated, even with malice aforethought, about committing an editorial. If the reader just wanted to talk, or read instant opinion, all he'd need do is eavesdrop on cell-phone conversations, God help him.

The essence of an editorial is that it's the product of an editor. This fascination with technique — how to set up a blog, how to get on the Internet, how to do this or do that — is not a good sign. I think it was Raymond Carver, the short story writer, who said that, when a writer wants to write about technique, it means he's run out of anything to say.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

Paul Greenberg Archives

© 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.