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Editorially speaking, Sammy Hagar rocks: youth provides a commonsense approach to opinion writing.

Would you give opinion page readers advice from Sammy Hagar?

I did when I paraphrased his song "I Can't Drive 55" in an editorial criticizing a proposal to lower speed limits.

Some of you are recoiling. What kind of editorial writer would use a dorky song from a crazy 1980s rock star to lobby the city council?

I would.

But then again, I'm not old enough to know all the rules in this game.

I'm twenty-five. Probably one of the youngest editorial writers working at a major daily newspaper. And after six months on the job, I've learned that I interpret current events in completely different (and often more simplistic) ways than my coworkers.

Occasionally they get bogged down in minutiae during editorial board meetings. I know I'm supposed to listen to all this stuff, and, by golly, I try. But some of the angles they lament fail to register on my Care-O-Meter.

One thing I do like about my youth, though, is that it keeps my writing from being pretentious or overly sarcastic. I'm rarely academic in my writing, so most of my buttressing arguments derive from common sense.

But maybe that's what we need to appeal to new or younger readers.

I think a lot of young or uneducated folks refuse to read the opinion page because everything seems so stuffy. They tend to see it as highbrow journalism written by old guys in suits who don't get out much.

Somehow we have to change that view. We have to humanize our writing--and ourselves.

I try to do that by getting out in the community as much as possible. I attend government meetings. I talk to "real people" rather than rely on the policy wonks. I try to tour and see and do as much as possible.

I don't try to speak up or down to readers, which means I write like I'd talk to a friend. That may entail using phrases like "what's up with that" and "before everyone starts freaking out" in edits.

I also like to do off-the-wall things, just to keep people on their toes.

I once explained growth in the style of a fairy tale. I humanized the villain, Urban Sprawl, to describe all the things he was doing to pristine land. And I warned that if something weren't done, we wouldn't live happily ever after.

I guess I've got a short attention span, and I figure a lot of folks out there have a penchant for being inattentive. That's why I want them to be surprised by the content if they ever stumble on the opinions page.

Keep 'em guessing. Keep 'em turning to the page each day for more.

Let me tell you, not everything I try works. But it's pretty cool that my editors let me try.

And who knows? Maybe when they do one of those reader surveys in a few years we'll find that I've attracted more young folks to the page. And then maybe, just for giggles, I can get Sammy Hagar to write an op-ed piece about speed limits.

Joanna Hensley, 25, is an editorial writer for The Arizona Republic. She covers the cities of Tempe and Mesa. E-mail joanna.hensley@
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Title Annotation:SYMPOSIUM: Johnny we hardly know ye
Author:Hensley, Joanna
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2005
Previous Article:"Boldness" is newspapers' missing generation link: our maturity isn't the problem; a lack of boldness might be.
Next Article:Youth must be served ... with editorials: reinstating the editorial page allowed us to challenge leaders ... and readers.

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