The occupational hazard of an Op/Ed writer

Last week I published an article about “Women in computer science.” I had intended it to be a commentary on society and the gender divide in computer science nationwide. However, what an author intends and what an audience interprets isn’t always the same thing.

In publishing “Women in computer science,” I unintentionally portrayed a professor who I deeply respect and admire in a bad light. Including a common idiom he used in class, which sparked my thoughts on the subject, I accidentally made it seem as though it was he, rather than society, who was in the wrong.

In realizing my blunder, I felt immediate remorse and guilt. I had never intended the article to reflect poorly upon anyone. My sole intent of the article was to inform on the great gender divide in computer science, and reflect on my own struggles with being in the minority. My immediate reaction was to swear off opinion writing forever. To use the exact words I told my roommate, “I’m just going to quit writing and leave Calvin to be a yak farmer in the Himalayas.” I was joking, of course, but the sentiment remains.

The last thing I want to do with writing is misrepresent the truth. However, it’s often difficult to do this, since exaggeration often heightens the emotional appeal of opinion pieces. It seems it’s almost impossible to never run into trouble as an opinion writer. In the wise words of my roommate, “It’s the occupational hazard of being an op-ed writer.”

I try my hardest to separate myself from the negative writings of opinion pieces. Unethical opped pieces tend to be polarizing, scathing, highly controversial and offensive. These pieces lack the discernment between writing as a platform and writing as a weapon.

The purpose of an opinion piece is to defend a viewpoint. However, this purpose becomes controversial when considering how an author chooses to defend the given viewpoint. While an ethical opinion piece represents all the sides and people within an article accurately, an unethical opinion piece will exaggerate and heighten emotions (which does make for a better story, but not a better truth).

The life of an op- writer is difficult, since your opinions are put out there for the world to see. It’s an impossible balance of entertainment and information, which causes tension between truth and misrepresentation. Sometimes it’s hard to put out my opinions, for fear that I will unintentionally offend someone.

However, I believe it is important to stay on my course. I continue to write opinion pieces because I seek redemption. I seek redemption for a writing style that is too often insulting, degrading or rude to the subject of the article. As I grow as a writer, I continue to learn more and more about the ethics of writing. While I have much left to learn, I am grateful for the lessons Op/Ed writing has taught me thus far.