This year I started writing a column for the Mustang Daily about cool places and events around the San Luis Obispo area, but fall and this quarter I’m also writing articles for the Daily as part of a class. So as a result, I’ve had to balance writing both opinion pieces and objective articles at the same time, which was a new thing for me.
I’ve written a lot of columns and news articles about a range of topics, but the way I write them and the interview techniques I use definitely differ. In my columns the style can be basically whatever I want, and because I like these places and events personally, I try to get readers to like them too. In contrast, my priorities when writing articles are about presenting information objectively and keeping the story focused.
For example, I wrote a column about Avila Valley Barn two weeks ago, and got some great quotes from Sandra Olea, one of the managers. Rather than just writing a completely objective piece about what the place sells, when they opened, etc. I described the things about the farm I thought were cool and got into what my source thought was great about the place. Here’s an example of a quote I used for Olea.
“I take it for granted because I am here all the time, but to see the joy on these kids’ faces sometimes,” she said. “…to me it’s just a magical little place.”
In contrast, last week I wrote an article about the campaign tactics Associated Students Inc. (ASI) candidates are using. I talked with College of Science and Mathematics Board of Directors hopeful and physics junior Eddie Taylor, who initially told me about what he was basing his platform on. That information is absolutely relevant to the election and who Taylor is as a candidate, but my article was focused on ASI campaign tactics and so I made sure to keep what I wrote about him and the other candidates more limited to that. Taylor said the main idea of his campaign is getting his name out there to students.
“They just need to hear your name and see if you’re a good person,” Taylor said.
After a day of writing news, sometimes it’s nice to get to write a bit more casually (and more biased) with a column. On the other hand, sometimes the limits that are more necessary for writing news articles can be helpful too.
Then again, it’s not always black and white – there are times when I believe a source’s opinion or feelings about a news topic can add to the story and validate it, even if it doesn’t give any facts. I wrote a story at the beginning of the quarter about the Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club speaking with an astronaut on the International Space Station, and included a quote from club president and aerospace engineering senior Javen O’Neal about how he thought the call went. As president he had more authority on the topic than the average reader, and so his opinion made sense to include.
“For Cal Poly’s very first radio contact with the International Space Station I’m really happy,” O’Neal said.