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Our art isn't dead, but it may be sleeping.

THE PULITZERS decide to skip a year on editorial writing. Critics take to the pages of Editor & Publisher, lamenting the low standards of opinion writing and questioning the need for editorial pages at all.

Even one of our own, Paul Greenberg of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, concludes that the general state of editorial writing is sorry.

What's going on here? Has the bottom fallen out of our craft? Have the grand opinion shapers of the past turned into space-fillers of the present?

Of course not.

Wander into almost any critique session at an NCEW convention and you'll find pockets of inspiration, bits and pieces of poetry, insights that enlighten. Opinion writers all over North America are digging into issues, experimenting with new approaches, and crafting their messages.

All is not grand

But all is not grand. A survey of opinion writing would also turn up far too many examples of gray, dull filler -- the recycling of predictable conclusions.

Paul may not be too far off the mark when he suggests that the exceptions to editorial mediocrity "rise out of the dull gray mist of editorial prose like singular Kilimanjaros breaking through the cloud cover."

Even if we have lost some of the passion for our calling -- from overwork and under-staffing, or just from routine -- we can get it back.

The possibilities are so grand, it's no wonder they can also be intimidating. It's not easy to get beyond ideology and predictability to a real conversation with the reader or listener. Institutional responsibilities too often weigh us down, turning our ideas into calculation. Don't underrate humor as a persuasive tool. Fresh thinking is key too. Recycled news, with a dash of opinion, is no substitute for full-bodied commentary.

What can we do?

What can we as individuals, and we as NCEW, do? For starters, we can listen to the masters of our craft. We Virginians have had a double dose of inspiration this year. NCEW helped bring Paul Greenberg to the commonwealth this spring for a state meeting of editorial writers. This summer, Richard Aregood of the Philadelphia Daily News spend a day in Virginia Beach, spreading wonderfully irreverent advice on how to reach readers. NCEW's Regional Conferences Committee is working on more of these state and regional opportunities.

Constant critiquing, not only of mechanics but of tone and message, is also critical. That's why day-long critique sessions remain at the heart of NCEW's annual convention. Please plan to be in Philadelphia September 8-11.

Critiquing is also available by mail. For more details, get in touch with our Outreach Committee chair, Phil Haslanger of The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., telephone (608) 252-6436.

There's another way to recapture passion. NCEW's Futures Committee is investigating the possibility of annual NCEW writing awards that would recognize the finest of our efforts.

But the best way to maintain or to recapture our passion for writing may be simply to remind ourselves of the possibilities. Laird Anderson, chair of our Journalism Education Committee, keeps the inspiration flowing in his classroom by distributing copies of Editorial Excellence, NCEW's compilation of fine editorials.

If you don't have a copy of Editorial Excellence, order one from headquarters.

When you feel yourself settling into a gray routine, flip through its pages. You'll find there the reasons why we all became opinion writers.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:The President's Letter; editorial writing
Author:Jones, Ed
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Sep 22, 1993
Previous Article:The progressive romantic.
Next Article:Editorial pages catch brunt of reader hostility.

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