Op-Ed Turns 40

This week in the News: September 27, 2010

The Op-Ed page in The New York Times turned 40.For centuries, newspapers often printed editorials in their pages. These were short articles that expressed the official opinion of the newspaper. In the early twentieth century, however, some newspapers also began publishing opinions of others. On September 21, 1970, The New York Times opened its pages to opinions from writers not affiliated with the newspaper, launching its Op-Ed page. "Op-Ed" stands for "Opposite Editorial", which is where these opinions were printed inside the newspaper. Some of these opinions were not only presented physically opposite the editorial, but they also sometimes presented the opposite opinion of the newspaper's viewpoint. Every Op-Ed page also featured some original artwork, usually done by an in-house designer, which in some way reflected the opinion piece. Forty years after its first publication, the Op-Ed—printed and online—remains a well-read component of this, and many other, newspapers.

The majority of newspaper content informs readers objectively with facts, reporting the news but not taking sides. Op-eds are also designed to educate readers about an issue, but, in contrast, are subjective and take a stance. An opinion writers may cite a related news event, fact, statistic, or anecdote, but only when it supports their viewpoint. Op-ed pieces may be done by industry or topic experts, as wells as by regular columnists and political cartoonists. Often, op-eds spark emotion, reflection, and debate.

During this week's activity, you will review and analyze some highlights from the Op-Ed page at The New York Times. You will also get to review how a cartoonist expresses her opinion, and learn about how you can create your own op-ed piece.

Analyzing Op-Ed

An op-ed about moving youth to vote.Before diving into actual op-eds, head over to the Teaching with primary sources site at LEARN NC. Here, take a few minutes to sharpen your skills on Reading newspapers: Editorial and opinion pieces. Read about newspapers and political bias, and discover the differences between editorials, cartoons, columns, and letters to the editor. Write a definition of each as reference. Continue down the page and copy the key questions listed. You will use these questions during your analysis later.

Next, learn more about Analyzing political cartoons, including the kinds of visual, persuasive techniques they use. Write a short definition of each technique for later reference, along with the analysis questions listed at the bottom of the page.

From the Primary source analysis worksheets collection, download and print the Cartoon analysis worksheet (PDF) and the graphic organizer titled, Fact-Question-Response Chart.

Now, you are ready to visit the special section, Op-Ed at 40 at The New York Times. Read the introduction, and then watch the video that illustrates A Brief History of the Art. Afterward, browse through the op-ed titles listed in each category, including The Presidency, Age of Terrorism, Science, and Equality/Inequality. Read the short excerpt from at least three articles, and then choose one to read in its entirety by clicking the link at the end of each excerpt titled, Read the Op-Ed Article. As you read through the op-ed, write down answers to the key questions you copied earlier. Also, fill out at least two rows in your Fact-Question-Response Chart. Discuss your findings with one or more classmates.

Hop over to the Newseum to look at the work of one award-winning political cartoonist, Ann Telnaes. Turn on speakers or use headphones to hear Telnaes explain each cartoon as the slideshow plays.

After watching the entire slideshow featuring her eight cartoons, decide on one of them to analyze. Click the number of the slide to see that cartoon. The gallery continues to auto-play, so you may need to click the number more than once as you analyze the featured cartoon. Answer the analysis questions you copied earlier for political cartoons, and fill out the Cartoon Analysis Worksheet. Discuss your findings with one or more classmates.

Political cartoon of Ann Telnaes.Creating Op-Eds

Having analyzed two types of op-eds, written and cartooned, you have a pretty good idea of what elements to include in each type. However, take a few more minutes to think about an op-ed as if you were the creator rather than the critic.

The History News Service site provides some helpful Op-Ed Style Guidelines to consider more of the details for actually writing your own op-ed. Although not every op-ed cites history to support its stance or would make an historical analogy, consider that many contemporary issues are often rooted in or reflect history. The general format, along with the style and tone suggestions are especially helpful, but feel free to skip over the Miscellaneous Considerations.

Scroll down to the Sample Annotated Article 1: What We Celebrate on the Fourth of July. As you read the article, click on each bold, colored Note link. The link will go to the note's content to read. When you are done reading the note, click your browser's Back button or the Back to Article link to return where you left off in the article. Repeat this exercise for Sample Annotated Article 2: Economic Instability - When the Fringe Benefits. For one of these sample articles, answer the list of key questions that you copied earlier. Discuss your analysis with one or more classmates.

Newspaper Activities

Most newspapers include an Op-Ed section. If the The Sacramento Bee has one, get familiar with some of the topics it has published opinion articles have covered, along with the style and tone of them. Then, review news articles reporting on local, national, or global current events or high-profile topics. Choose one topic about which to create your own opinion piece. Research the issue and reflect on your opinion about it. Ultimately, decide on one clear message that you want to communicate about the issue and your opinion. Write an essay that is 600 to 800 words long, and a create cartoon that also illustrates the topic and your related opinion. Publish your op-ed piece online or in a printed format, such as a handout or poster. Have two or three classmates analyze your op-ed essay and cartoon, using the analysis questions and worksheets downloaded near the beginning of this lesson. Do the same for their op-ed projects. As a small group, discuss each person's project and analyses.

Weekly News Topics

Each week The Bee publishes a new weekly news topic for students who use the Internet and newspaper as learning resources. The weekly news topic are tied to current events in the news and help students extend their knowledge on a wide range of subjects. Click here to return to the table of contents.

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