Going ‘Inception’ On The ‘Editorial’

When Qrius decides to go meta and attempts to deconstruct the calling card that is the editorial

Mayur Mulki

If one would like to go bone-dry with the definition of what an ‘editorial’ is, it could be that section of a publication to which the senior editorial staff contributes. It generally features opinion pieces or commentary on the pressing issues of the day, along with correspondence from the publication’s loyal readers.

As we pride ourselves on doing things a bit differently, we felt that there is something to be said about the editorial itself.

Image: Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

What distinguishes an editorial from its more ‘popular’ neighbour, the much-vaunted ‘op-ed’? Doesn’t common logic dictate that if the op-ed garners all the eyeballs, mental space and adulation from readers, then the actual content it is ‘opposite’ to, should occupy pride of place in the hierarchy? It remains about location, location and location in publishing real estate, so maybe editors-in-chief could do with a reality check.

To that end, every editor, member of the mode and other decision-makers have a responsibility to determine what ‘features’ (we could not resist) an editorial must have, what angles need to be taken and what feelings it must evoke in the readers, who are accustomed to a certain voice of the publication.

Photo by Peter Lawrence on Unsplash

Different strokes for different folks‘ is the mantra followed by the editorial board at the most well-known publications, including a secret sauce to maintain their hold over their positions. This is why a ‘how-to’ manual including industry-wide perspectives on writing the perfect editorial may yet be a pipe dream.

Also, editors are known to be paradoxical boisterous recluses with a disproportionate sense of self. So while you may get a box-set of the greatest hits, you may not find a coffee table book with all editors contributing in an ‘all-your-hosts-of-late-night-TV’ vein.

Editors as Shapers of Opinion

Fact, as to any journalist, is paramount to an editor, who wants to shape public opinion, if not outright influence it. Evidence that can be analysed with an editor’s eye and cancels the noise, rather than add to it, as we have seen happening in the slow devolution of discourse on national news channels, is the order of the day .

A good editorial is like the appendix in a report where you get all the brass tacks (we could not resist again) of the analysis that helps form the opinion of the editor in the readers’ minds, while helping shaping their own.

In a way, it is parsing through all the analyses, opinions, debates and commentaries, to present new and hopefully unique perspectives, based on a thorough critical analysis. All this must be done with a sense of objectivity, fairness to the subject matter and not a small amount of balance. An editor is always against guard against creeping biases and opinionated thought in the recesses of their minds. Perhaps this is where the self-aggrandizement comes from.

The editors of today also have a unique challenge in maintaining the faith of their readers. The advent of social media and ‘Gen Z’ coming-of-age means there is an ever-increasing need to be seen as ‘hip’ (which itself is quite dated a term). There is a need to remain contemporary, not populist, serious, but not pretentious.

Image; Nicole Baster via Unsplash

This balance is where the secret sauce comes in for a good editorial. Occasionally though, opinion can get divided, the pot may get stirred a bit, but this is only when hard-hitting expose is the need of the hour. It may not be able to give a nuanced take on differing academic or political opinions when there are obvious lapses in thought on any one side of the debate. That’s okay and quite legitimate, editors are human beings too, after all.

This is why most editors are even-tempered individuals, but with a silent rage and ever-present gaze. Quiet zealots, we are as a community.

The Nuts and Bolts

The engine that runs an editorial is the language, it’s the heart, the jugular, the nucleus of commentary. It is the accessory to thought, and it should remain as such. The best journalists in the world seem to have the uncanny ability to dress their hard facts in the most exquisite of language, sometimes needed to cloak their true intentions with the use of allegory.

Yet, they never lose sight of the substance in their work. After all, they are not presenting works of fiction, so language needs to be an accessory that cuts through and does not overshadow the principle thought. There is a difference between wearing a necklace and wearing fifteen, a la part-time pirate Johnny Depp.

We Leave You With These Messages

All good editorials end like movies, where you are still left with the overarching theme on the drive home. The reader feels informed and still empowered enough to offer his/her/their two cents on the subject matter. Subtlety is key in offering an opinion, and not hammering it into the cerebral cortices of the readers.

A good editorial, at once, gives a reader closure about something that has been roiling in their own minds, or opens up new avenues to the informed. In either case, it leaves them coming back for more.

In Essence

So what did we learn today, folks?

An editorial of any merit should have an opinion, but not feel opinionated. It should serve to educate, but not talk down to its readers. It should guide and shape the readers’ thoughts, or help form new ones, but not leave them out in the cold. It should engage them enough and always seek to entertain whilst engaging.

It should be able to condense the most difficult of ideas into a single line of thought. Like this one.

We hope that didn’t sound too pompous. As editors, you cannot say we didn’t warn you.

The author is Senior Editor at Qrius