Columnists write to generate new perspectives, spark discussion

Writing opinions columns is an interesting job, especially at the college level.

We columnists at The Daily Illini are 18-22 year olds expressing our worldviews to an audience of readers. Granted, the DI’s readership is not at the level of the Chicago Tribune or The News-Gazette. But our columns do reach many readers — be it students, faculty, community members, alumni or the random person doing a Google search that matches up with a keyword in one of our columns.

This is the conclusion of my third and final semester working as an opinions columnist for the DI, as I’ll be studying abroad next semester in Granada, Spain, to complete my Spanish minor.

In this year and a half, I’ve enjoyed writing about campus issues, Illinois basketball, bars’ personalities, Chief Illiniwek, Big Ten dining, love and many more topics. I’m always fascinated by the responses I get to my columns. Sometimes, I would write what I considered a dull column and I would get very passionate email responses to it. Other times I would write something that I thought would gain a lot of traction on social media, and it didn’t. Oftentimes, email comments and comments submitted on the column itself were very polarized: Either the person really liked what I wrote or he really didn’t. I realized that although many people may read my columns, I would typically only get responses from those with strong reactions.

At the base level, a columnist’s job is to present opinions to address new viewpoints and to spark discussion.

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Columns are meant to elicit emotions — no matter if they are positive or negative. Columnists are not required to write in favor of the majority’s opinion, which is something that can be very challenging when responses are gauged. What we write represents our opinions — not what the DI thinks, not what the University thinks. We stand alone with our words.

People have the tendency to respond to things mostly when they are either very much in favor or very much opposed to an idea. But out of those two, the weight of the responses shifts to the opposition.

The omnipresence of media makes reactions a given — everyone has something that grinds his gears. But the virtual wall that online media and communication creates allows people to avoid confrontation. It is so easy to react to an opinion with harsh words, because one is not dealing with the writer face-to-face. This makes reactions brash and not always well thought out.

There have been instances where comments have made me cringe and question my validity as a journalism major and even as a human being. Maybe that’s a little bit dramatic, but words can and do sting, and my skin has been toughened.

However, that is not to say that all negative comments are hasty and uncalled for. Sometimes columnists need a reality check. Sometimes we overlook a perspective. Sometimes we had a crazy week with two exams and a paper due, resulting in a less-than-stellar column. And those thoughtful responses make us work harder to be better columnists.

We do not try to write with narrow opinions. We are not trying to throw out sensational ideas just to evoke a reaction and garner the most Facebook recommendations.

We write about topics we experience in our daily lives and about subjects we are learning in class. We write about major national issues that interest us. We write about topics that are not at the forefront of the news.

Being in our late-teens and early-twenties, we are constantly learning. We may publish a column, look back on it a semester later and ask ourselves, “Why the heck did I think that?”

But that’s the nature of an opinion: It can easily change. Continue to read the DI’s columns and keep submitting thoughtful responses. Hold us accountable, and be a part of the discussion. We love to know that our opinions are reaching readers and affecting them in some way.

And as for me, I’ve enjoyed this run. Thank you to my consistent readers — I’ve appreciated your comments and encouragement.

Never stop reading and expanding your perspectives, because opinions are what create change in the world.

Kirsten is a junior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected].