If you’ve ever read one of my columns on KentWired and thought to yourself, "Why on earth does that guy write columns?", today is your lucky day. Or maybe unlucky. Probably unlucky. Writing columns — besides being one of the more fun parts of long semesters of school that is otherwise filled with busywork, learning new technologies and assignments that are hard to keep track of — is something that, to me at least, has been beneficial in a multitude of different ways. While not everyone will enjoy writing columns as much as I do, or even necessarily benefit from them as much as I have and still do, there are a lot of aspects of opinion writing that I — either through trial and error in my personal life or consulting with people in the journalism field, such as my professors here at Kent — come to believe have actually had a positive impact on my life.
The first one is maybe pretty obvious to some of you, but if you’re like me and want to eventually be an opinion writer or columnist for your career, then it benefits you to write opinions in school for two major reasons. The first one is the practice and the experience. For anything you do, no matter how naturally good you are at it, there will be a few rules and different things to learn. For me, I had to learn a bit about linking and citing information, and a lot about the proper AP style (unfortunately, parentheses are frowned upon when not necessary). It also helps me get a grasp of the feel I’m going for and how to balance my style of speaking with proper writing. I always want to err on the side of sounding genuine, but at the same time, I can’t exactly write a column using the same style of speaking I use to my girlfriend or my brother; that would be unprofessional.
Secondly, it helps to build a portfolio. When I graduate from Kent, I’ll be applying for journalism jobs, and the more experience I have the better. While I will eventually need reporting experience, as I’ll likely have to spend some time as a reporter in the professional world before moving up to columnist, opinion writing is a good starting point as it gets me comfortable with researching and writing. With writing stories, of course, they’re not all my choice and my opinion is (or at least should be) completely removed. That, along with the fast-paced environment of reporting, makes it more challenging than opinion writing in my eyes. That’s why I’m almost treating opinion writing as a bit of a primer or intro.
Outside of my future career, however, I would argue opinion writing has been even more beneficial to me than it has been within those parameters. Most importantly, it has helped me to become more confident. One thing I learned pretty early on at KentWired is that no matter what I write about, it might be controversial to someone somewhere, but in a sense, that’s a good thing. I used to be very reserved about sharing any political or social opinion with anyone when I was at Tri-C, or if someone at work would go on a long monologue about politics, I would just nod along with them regardless of what they said. Writing opinions for KentWired and being, for the lack of a better term “controversial,” was kind of like how a football player once described to me the first time he hit hard and knocked over. We both realized, “Hey, that didn’t kill us. It’s not so bad after all.”
Since I began writing opinions, I’ve started seeing a lot more worth in myself and thinking of myself in much higher regard than before. In all situations — not just political or social ones — I've become much likelier to stand up for myself and say what I feel like needs to be said. While there will definitely be some people who hate what I have to say, there will be a lot of people who respect me for saying it, even if they disagree. It’s easier to get respect when you stand up for yourself. As much as I hate to be this personal (though maybe I don’t because I mention her all the time) my girlfriend, who is not politically alike to me, said she fell for me when she saw me becoming more confident in myself, “falling in love with myself,” in her words, and I give my column writing as much credit for that as anything else. If not for that I’d still be here.
Moving beyond the professional and the social, there is the intellectual benefit of writing columns. For me, writing columns is a nice way to help “organize” my own thoughts. I’m sure all of you have been in the position where you felt one way or the other but didn’t know exactly how to express that sentiment. For example, my column "Trust your principles over your judgment" was an idea that I had been trying to express for a while, and it came to me when I was at work one afternoon. I made a note of it on my phone, and I immediately knew what I was turning in to my editor on Tuesday. I learn best by teaching, too, so I always grasp a concept better once I, myself, can put it into words.
Finally — and this can probably be attributed as much to why I write so much about accepting different opinions as I do — I never liked thinking I was the only person in the world who thought one way or another about something. There were a lot of times that either a political issue or a court case was in the news, and I’d go around and ask anyone who wanted to talk about it and nobody would understand what I had to say. Since I never liked that feeling as a kid or a teenager, when I decided on opinion writing as a career, I made a point that I would use my writing to help people who felt the way I did that their opinions are valid, whether I agreed with them or not.
Ross McDonnell is an opinion writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.