By Fred Fiske
Special to Poynter.org
We in the opinion-writing profession crave feedback on our work. Sure, we get plenty from letter-writers and callers, some of them considerably less than civil. Those of us in the business for a while develop tough hides to absorb the “critiques” of outraged readers. Some of the criticism may be on-point and helpful. When the comments are totally off the wall, the challenge is to remain polite.
On another plane altogether is the opportunity to have your work critiqued by professionals and peers. That’s worth its weight in gold to an opinion writer who knows such criticism can only improve his or her writing. The intrinsic value of critiques is so well-recognized in our profession that for more than half a century we have made it a central element of our yearly conventions. Members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers typically spend the better part of a full day in small groups analyzing each others’ work. Members exchange editorials and commentary pages well in advance, then prepare detailed critiques for two members of their small group. The day is spent in round-robin critiques, as members take turns assessing each others’ writing and editing.
I have been through at least a dozen critique sessions at NCEW conventions, and there isn’t one that hasn’t given me at least a half-dozen ideas to benefit my writing and my pages. Discussion in the critique groups is civil, sometimes heated, always lively. Everyone is engaged in the process — after all, it’s your ox being gored, and your professional judgments on the line. The process can be draining, but at the same time it’s uplifting, since it holds your writing to a lofty standard. You may not always meet that standard, but striving for it is bound to make your pages better. The opportunity for an online critique could be invaluable. It won’t capture the face-to-face collegiality and interchange of a small-group critique session at an NCEW convention. But it does provide another avenue for peer review and feedback. And it extends a version of the critique process to writers, editors and papers who cannot attend the NCEW sessions.
Fred Fiske is a Syracuse Post-Standard Senior Editorial Writer and past president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers.