Exercise your freedom of speech — write an op-ed
Iused to write a mommy blog for a parenting publication. After it won an award (and with my editor’s support), I approached the publisher to explore ways to help it grow. Turns out the publisher had never actually read my blog, and this prompted her to take a look. When she did, she deleted the posts with which she personally disagreed.
I was shocked. How could she delete my blog entries just because we had differing opinions? I told her if she was going to delete one, she should just delete them all. She did, and I felt like I’d lost my voice in the community.
May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. In the United States, freedom of speech and freedom of the press go hand in hand. Both are protected by the First Amendment of our Constitution. What happened to me was not a violation of my rights, since the magazine was a private company. Freedom of speech means the government can’t restrict speech without a “compelling state interest.” Lori Duff, a lawyer, judge and humorist, says, “That’s how the FCC can make sure tender ears don’t hear curses when Barney stubs his purple toe.” She says it’s also why you can criticize the president but cannot threaten the president’s life.
Newspapers play an important role in freedom of speech, especially through op-eds. “Op-ed” is short for “opposite the editorial page,” named for where it traditionally showed up in print papers. The New York Times announced earlier this week that after 50 years, it is retiring the term “op-ed” and will now call these opinion pieces “guest essays,” because op-eds are “a relic of an older age and an older print newspaper design.” Regardless of what a publication wants to call them, the very reason they exist is to hear diverse opinions from the community.
But why would anyone want to write an op-ed or guest essay when they can just sound off on social media? Well, because social media is where you vent in a post to your friends, who likely agree with you. Internet trolls fight in the comments section on public posts. Neither are productive conversations. Even in a newspaper’s modern digital form, columns and essays are where contributors tie personal experience to current events. They bring the news home and put real faces to big issues.
Every community member has a voice in the opinion pages, regardless of platform, publishing experience or expertise. The opinion section remains a vital part of community conversation.
After my blog was taken down, I submitted an op-ed to my local paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and it was published. I’ve published many more since then. I now serve on the Enquirer’s editorial board and write a weekly syndicated column. My voice went from being silenced regionally to distributed nationally. I had not lost my voice after all.
You have the power to change hearts and minds when you share your personal stories. So, when you find yourself typing a lengthy post on social media about a topic that really hits home for you, consider hitting “cut” and “paste” instead. Transfer it over to a blank page; polish it; and then send it to your local paper. You will be amazed at how many more lives you’ll affect by writing a letter to the editor or an op-ed. Exercise your freedom of speech, and help your local publications exercise their freedom of the press. Let the conversation begin with you.
Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a
wife, mother and award-winning columnist.