Election Mess Gives Students Education

By Morgan, Hugh | The Masthead, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Election Mess Gives Students Education


Morgan, Hugh, The Masthead


Students get firsthand look at history

My students thought the project in using the Internet to study editorial writing throughout the United States would be over a few days after the November 7 election. A few students, like Karah Woesner, complained their newspapers did not write many editorials before the election, so it would be difficult to write a rhetorical analysis of the election editorials since Labor Day.

But then Florida happened.

Woesner, who downloaded editorials from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, found she was deluged.

Several students discovered their newspapers took a stance in the post-election that favored the candidate the paper endorsed. One student, however, told me he was amazed that his paper switched sides after the election on its view whether the Electoral College or the total popular vote was more important.

Still, many students talked about how rational the newspapers were in looking at the election crisis.

Our class was an experiment we tried for the first time by creating an online site with the assistance of the National Conference of Editorial Writers.

My students developed a semester-long project of learning editorial writing by downloading election editorials from online editions of newspapers and by writing their own editorials on the election.

The project began after Labor Day and was supposed to end after the November 7 general election. A very talented undergraduate, Mark Mussman, helped design the site. (He came up with an alternate address that provides an entry with the Flash program: www.muohio.edu/editorialsflash.)

After the election, however, we voted to revamp the class. We would continue to look at our newspapers' editorials into December and to write a rhetorical analysis that discussed how the newspaper editorials dealt with the Florida crisis and how they looked at the candidates before the election.

This analysis was written -- as it turned out -- before the election was decided.

The project began in the spring when I contacted NCEW executive secretary Cora Everett, who was so very helpful. Among other things, she put me in touch with Chuck Stokes, editorial director at WXYZ-TV in Detroit, who was NCEW president during 2000.

I soon discovered what a gentle and helpful person he is. We discussed over the summer the ideas for the editorial writing class. He also asked that I get in touch with Phineas Fiske at Newsday. Phineas revised my proposal in a way that made it work.

Both then explained the project to NCEW members in an e-mail and asked them to participate. I soon got an e-mail from Kay Semion of the Dayton Daily News in which she volunteered to help. Since Miami is only an hour southwest of Dayton, I went to her office to get her advice. She and another editorial staff member, Sharen Johnson, volunteered to visit the class in the fall to discuss how to write an editorial.

We also got further help from NCEW members. Robert White, editor of the Cincinnati Post's editorial page and a Miami graduate, explained to the class September 29 how his paper did endorsements of local candidates. He also advised students on how to develop their issue editorial.

Through Kay, I was put in contact with Keith Runyon, editorial page editor of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, who spoke October 9 to the class. He traced his newspaper's crusading history and also discussed the changing role of the editorial page. He told students that the editorial writer has an opportunity to take all this abundant information that is now available and use it to bring issues into focus for readers. The editorial page and the op-ed pages are now a place to go for readers to figure out what is important.

It took longer than I hoped for students to learn how to use our program, to critique the editorials, and to post them and their own editorials. Just before the election, however, I was very happy to see that the students took ownership of their Web site. …

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