SDX 2002 Awards Gallery
Opinions can bring change
By Tom Moran
I had been writing editorials for a few years when my boss asked me to take over as education editor back in the news department. I nobly agreed to help the paper in its hour of need by giving up my beloved chair on the editorial board. After I negotiated a good raise.
But it didnt stick. Once you step into the world of opinion writing, there is no going back. I found myself screaming opinions at the newspaper over breakfast. I picked political fights in the cafeteria. My wife begged me to go back to opinion, which I soon did.
What is it about opinion work that keeps us here? On the most exalted level, you can try to help this country live up to its high ideals. Linda Valdez is doing that with her winning editorials on the deaths of illegal Mexican immigrants crossing into Arizona. She has put the issue on the Legislatures agenda. And if you earn a living while doing something that makes you proud on your death bed, you have a job that is special.
Reporters can shape the public agenda too, of course. But editorial writers work on that full-time. And we can be prescriptive. Reporters can chronicle the plight of the working poor. Editorial writers can say we need to give them tax credits and health insurance. And we can turn up the heat by skewering those who get in the way. If youre lucky enough to have a cartoonist on board for the skewering part, then you are off and running.
The job has its drawbacks. We cant be experts on all the topics, even with Googles help, and it can be exhausting to pretend. When board members cant reach a clean consensus, the editorial turns to goop. When sloppy reporters miss facts, you can waste time on wild goose chases.
If your newspaper takes its editorial page seriously, this is not an easy job. A generation ago, editorial writers were often the veterans looking for a place to park their tails in the final stages of their careers. They often did no reporting of their own. That can work, but only if the writer has spectacular wit or insight.
The modern editorial writer has to work sources and get out of the office, just like a reporter. A taste for reading great gobs of non-fiction at night helps, too.
But if youre intellectually curious, and you dont mind sticking your neck out for a good cause, find a seat on your editorial board.
Tom Moran is Deputy Editorial Page Editor at The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. He won the 1999 SDX Award for Editorial Writing.
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Linda Valdez, The Arizona Republic, Phoenix
Linda Valdez, editorial writer for The Arizona Republic, said her award-winning work was inspired by death specifically, the deaths of 145 illegal Mexican immigrants last year who never made it to the American jobs that they sought.
They die on their way to jobs that keep costs down in the United States. Jobs at which virtually no attempt is made to enforce laws against hiring the undocumented. They die because they are poor people in search of plentiful jobs jobs that pay far more in an hour than they would earn in a day in Mexico, she said. With each death, I get new inspiration to speak out against this incredible injustice.
As border patrols have cracked down on illegal immigration in California, Texas, and urban areas of Arizona, many Mexicans elect to take the more dangerous route through harsh Arizona deserts. The trip is too much for many of them, and men, woman and children regularly die from exposure before the trips end.
Through Valdezs editorials, The Arizona Republic has raised awareness of the problems of U.S. immigration policy. The paper pointed out the hypocrisy of a system that relies and, in some cases, even encourages the use of low-paid, illegal workers, while at the same time erecting what Valdez calls the border gauntlet.
My husband comes from a small, agricultural village in Mexico, Valdez said. Each time we visit, we try to dissuade people from attempting an illegal crossing into the United States because of a laundry list of dangers. They remain unconvinced. They need jobs. They risk all because they know jobs are waiting for them. In fact, they dont understand why the Border Patrol goes to such efforts to keep them out when the employers are so eager to have them.
The confusion of these mixed messages, Valdez argues in her editorials, has led to a dangerous system of people smugglers in Mexico, as well as a growing number of anti-immigration vigilantes on the U.S. side of the border.
Not surprisingly, the editorials have brought mixed reactions from readers. While many are sympathetic to the papers arguments, there are an equal number who vehemently object to Valdez and her ideas about immigration. She said shes received criticism, both professionally and personally.
But the issue of immigration policy has become an important one in the Arizona legislature, and lawmakers have made plans to discuss border issues. Valdez is reluctant to take credit for these changes, but she admits that the paper undoubtedly had a role.
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Mike Thompson, Detroit Free Press
Mike Thompson describes his success with a baseball analogy.
Editorial cartoonists are like baseball pitchers, he wrote. Pitchers who can only hurl hard fastballs do not last, nor do pitchers who can only fling breaking balls. The successful ones can toss both.
An ability to toss both is crucial for editorial cartoonists, the best of whom are both hard-hitting and witty simultaneously.
Thompsons award-winning work from 2002 shows that he takes that advice seriously in every cartoon he draws. Hes not afraid to tackle the hot stories of the day be it the war in Iraq, the ongoing scandals in corporate responsibility, or tragedies such as the nine miners who were trapped last year. His cartoons achieve that difficult balance, using humor to drive home his arguments.
Just like a columnist, an editorial cartoonists job is to engage readers, to provoke a reaction and to make their community think about common problems in new ways, he wrote. Heavy-handed slam cartoons are easy to produce. Gag cartoons are a dime a dozen. But cartoons that can make readers laugh and think are tougher to pull off.
Thompson works for the Detroit Free Press, and his cartoons are syndicated to over 400 newspapers across the country. He also freelances for the editorial page of USA Today on a rotating basis.