Cosman: Opinion journalism is an exercise in exploration, intellectual engagement

After publishing 32 articles for the opinion section of The Lamron, it’s hard sometimes to remember that I am not simply spouting into a vacuum, and that there are indeed people reading the things I’ve written. That’s something like 19,000 words I’ve typed out for others to read – at least that’s the intent. And the question I come to now is: Why?

Maybe it’s egotistical to think this sort of culminating article is even warranted. In the grand scheme of things, my two-year, 32-article run doesn’t amount to much and isn’t even all that notable.

And I originally set out to write the last article of my undergraduate career as an ordinary opinion piece, something that tracks to the left about the worsening state of America’s middle class. But I kept coming back to this question of why. Why bother writing down my fledgling arguments week in and week out?

Why does anyone write an opinion article? Is it because they think they’re right, because they think they have an opinion that needs asserting, to educate, to spark a discussion? There is, built in to the process of writing and publishing an opinion article, an understanding that it is for an audience, for reception by a larger public.

I’ve received feedback on my articles from enough people who have disagreed with something I have written to know that there is in fact a lively readership of The Lamron’s opinion section. For better or worse, the ideas posited and theses defended in a column do reach an audience.

But I think that, ultimately, the writing of an opinion article is for one person alone: the author. Above all, an opinion piece is written for the author’s exploration of any given topic, for their own inquiry and investigation of an issue that interests them. The audience comes afterward, a byproduct of the process. The writing of an opinion article is to think through whatever ideas the author deems worthy of thinking through. That differs greatly depending on the individual at the keyboard, but in the end each piece is written because the author believes the issue needs to be addressed, because the author thinks it is worthy of 600 words of scrutiny.

That is what makes the opinion section of The Lamron so valuable. It is evidence, week after week, of a student body engaging with the issues that demand attention. It serves as an outlet for the kind of intellectual exploration of the current concerns facing society that Geneseo fosters and encourages in its students.

Each week, columnists for The Lamron – some writing weekly, some only once – produce the 500 to 600 words necessary to affirm a position, provide the supporting evidence and reach a satisfying conclusion. Pieces are written because the authors needed to spend the time working through the issue for themselves. That is why opinion articles are written. It is a selfish undertaking, but a wholly worthwhile one.

I spent the many cumulative hours it took to write those 32 articles because their respective topics fascinated me and prompted me to explore further, to investigate for myself and hopefully even to learn something. If that captures an audience, inspires discussion either because someone agrees with me or because they find it to be the least intelligent thing they’ve ever read, well that’s out of my hands. First and foremost, I wrote each opinion article for my own self-interest.

It’s strange, I suppose, to think about something like writing for The Lamron as something that can end. But here it is. I didn’t want to write this pseudo-farewell column, but apparently I just had one more thing I needed to work out for myself.