Mount Creative Writers
On the nature of commentary
MSM Class of 2015
"You see, this is why newspapers are so important. We will now go into the discussion about commentaries," my professor said.
"However, I want you to write an essay on why commentaries are important. I trust that you will have a sound essay with no grammatical errors, and…"
The sound of my professor’s rambling quickly tuned out, and I rose from my seat faster than anyone could say, "Class dismissed." Suddenly, I heard my professor’s voice come back into reality, and I think I felt my heart stop for a split second. I wasn’t sure if I heard her quite correctly. But then, I was positive I did.
"This essay will be turned in for a grade, but I will also be selecting the best essay and submitting it to the local newspaper for publishing next month," she said.
Every part of my body got the chills and the hair on my legs, arms, and head stood up. I think everyone noticed I was so wide-eyed because my professor stared back at me as if I were an alien. The thought of writing about the commentary section of the newspaper was always a dream of mine. It also ran in the family.
When I was younger, instead of watching cartoons, I found it fun to always peek into the newspaper that my father was reading. My father always reminded me that it was important to read commentary sections of the paper because this was the light to our decision making. I was never quite sure what he meant by the light to our decision
"You see, Isabelle, this is the section that helps us not only learn, but also make smart decisions," he said, pointing to the small tiny words on the page. My father was a very educated man and he worked very hard as a newspaper journalist. He taught us the importance of the news, and not just that, but the importance of being educated
about all sides of news. He died when I was thirteen from a tragic car accident while traveling in Africa to cover a global journalism story.
"I want to write and write and write like you, Daddy," I said, snuggling into his lap.
"Maybe one day you will, sweetie," he smiled at me with his big grin and hairy chin.
When I got my full ride scholarship to Yale, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going to study journalism. I wasn’t just going to report the news; I was going to really write about the news. With one more year of college left, I have realized that I want to go even deeper than that. I want to be a commentator. I want to be the big
name in the commentary section. I may or may not get my name on the front page, but at least my writing will provide something more than just a report. My professor asked for an essay on the importance of commentary, and she may find that I might just be the next best commentator.
I sat down at my wooden desk and stared up at a picture of my father. He was always my inspiration. He had a funny sense of humor, and a whole lot of confidence. I figured that is where I got both of those things. Hopefully his writing was in my genes, too.
"Well, here goes nothing, Dad!" I said out loud.
Just as I was about to start typing with the inspiration of my dad in mind, I realized that as a future journalist, I should probably ask other people what they think about commentaries in a newspaper. Perspective was always good to have. It is also the key in journalism.
Where should I go to find different perspectives on commentaries? It seemed like a very specific topic to just ask anyone. I picked up the phone and called my mom.
"Helloooo!" My mom answered the phone with her perky voice. I could feel her smile through the phone.
"Hey, Mom!" I said, excited to talk with her.
"How are you sweetie? How are classes? Are they keeping you very busy?"
"Yes, they really are. I was actually wondering if I could ask you a question. Did Dad ever ramble on to you about the importance of commentaries? Or ask you why you think they are important?" I asked.
"Well actually, he did, but from what I gathered about reading the commentary section myself, I know that the importance of commentaries is very foreign to a lot of people," my mom said.
"Yes, most people do not understand how important they really are," I agreed with her.
"Well to understand a commentary section, like your father used to say, is to first understand what the goal of a newspaper is…"
A newspaper is meant to educate. Educating readers is more important than entertaining them. Those who write in the commentary section can be foreign writers or writers in the same country. Either way, both writers hold a different perspective, an insight into the details of the news. However, different perspectives do not change the fact
that those writers come from the same general background. They were all taught the basics behind journalism, but their writing provides a diverse way of approaching why certain news is important.
Commentary tells you why what’s happening is important, and it allows you to be exposed to other viewpoints. They are independent of left or right wing views. They are there to help us readers make decisions and gather our own thoughts on the situation.
So why is this important you might ask? It’s important because commentaries help frame what is significant in the news. When I was asked to write this essay, I thought that writing it would come easily, but I quickly realized that understanding the commentaries section first begins with understanding the goals behind it. In developing the
importance of commentaries, I decided to take not a left or a right wing approach, but rather an independent attitude to first learning its goals:
Education is one of the unique gifts that many people in this world unfortunately cannot access. For those who can, the freedom to independently pick up a newspaper is simply beautiful. The commentary section should be seen as a map. It is a map of all different minds and all different perspectives. We live in an international world. These
different perspectives educate people on why something is important in the news and how it can relate to them. For example, a foreign commentary on America might be valuable to us because it helps us see how the rest of the world views us. It also shows us that international writers take interest in the news that goes on in our country. We would never know why
certain news is significant to us without the opinion of others. Essentially, this is how we form our own opinions on that specific topic. Commentaries educate, not entertain.
Commentaries expose readers to diversity and knowledge. I called my mother during the first few days I struggled with this assignment. And yes, I’m admitting, I had trouble with this writing task. She told me that commentaries give people another’s opinion on an area that they may not be extremely educated in. "It’s all about exposure."
These were her words exactly. She said that this allows people to be exposed to all areas of education: business, economics, finance, environmental issues, travel, international trade, etc. After she said this, I realized that if we are never exposed to other people’s views, how are we supposed to develop our own?
Finding your own viewpoint is key. My father was a very well-respected journalist. He wrote for the commentary section of the newspaper. He always used to say that his job was the most important job in the paper. He told me that writing commentary helped others formulate thoughts on a topic that may not have had any importance to them
previously. He taught me that commentaries are more than just opinions. They are stepping stones and foundations for another person’s intelligence. People can discover their own opinions, but also develop a deeper appreciation for the ability to form that opinion.
Commentaries educate, expose, and discover. They involve people from all parts of the intelligence map. You may disagree with me on the goals of the commentaries. Or maybe this is only a fraction of what commentaries really do for readers. However, I’m only one part of the map. If you’ve never read a commentary before, I encourage you to
pick one up. These goals led me to understand the final importance of commentaries. Commentaries are in newspapers to engage. If a commentary engages you and challenges you to think harder about what is important in the news, then it is succeeding. So, have I engaged you?
"Buzz…Buzz…Buzz," my phone alarm whispered into my ears.
I picked my head up from my laptop. I could feel the droopy bags underneath by eyes, and I couldn’t help but squint at the flashing curser on my white screen. I must have fallen asleep while on my computer after submitting my essay last night. I wiped the small patch of drool off of my sleeve.
"Gahhh," I said, stretching my arms out behind me. I rubbed my eyes and double checked to see that my essay submitted correctly. It had. Phew. As I was reaching for the top of my laptop to close it, I heard "the ding." This sound was one I heard frequently. Who could possibly be sending me an email this early at 7:30AM? I switched over to
my email browser and noticed an email from my journalism professor. Oh gosh, I can see it now. It probably read, "You did not complete the essay correctly." Or, "This was too opinionated." What if I end up failing the class that means the most to me?
"Okay Isabelle, just breathe. It’s just an email," the voice in my head kept saying.
Oh well, it’s just an email. I clicked on my professor’s name. To my amazement, I sat in silence soaking in her kind words.
"You engaged me. Your father would be proud. Congratulations on winning this year’s Yale Journalism contest. Looking forward to seeing your name in the commentary section of next month’s local paper." -Professor Hunter
Read other articles by Alexandra Tyminski