September 22, 2018 | ° F

Rules for reading Targum columns


Inspired by the "insider's" column written by the late William Safire, who was a New York Times political ex-columnist, and republished last week to commemorate his past at the Times, I've taken the liberty of localizing and sharing a dozen rules of how to read a column from your local University-based independent newspaper.

1. Beware the columnists' device of using a quotation from an opposition figure to make their own case. College students, perhaps as a result of "Expository Writing," quote things they've read from opposing views to support their own points. More than likely, either the quote is taken out of context or — the more likely scenario — the writer doesn't know what the person quoted was talking about.

2. Never look for the point in the first paragraph. In the pursuit of trying to match deadlines, columnists will often forget their topic mid-column but continue writing or they will begin writing and weave a web of tangents that no reader will ever find their way out of. The smart opinions section reader will begin to read the column at the last or second to last paragraph.

3. Don't mistake big words or foreign phrases as a sign of intelligence. Au contraire, mon ami(!) as the aberrant vocabulary of the superficial scribe may aggrandize and venerate the visage of the text of which we speak. To descry such chicanery, the true goal of the trickster is through the use of tortuous and esoteric words he or she will engender the enigma that he or she is truly a phenomenon of post-modern sagacity. Theirs' is a tale … full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Their times on print are short — treat them like a small puppy waiting to be neutered.

4. When meeting them in person, be wary of feeding their unwarranted self-importance through recognition. Eventually, the proverbial soapbox that allows for the pseudo-intelligentsia to voice their concerns will, through no fault of their own, give them an air of haughtiness. Forgive them, dear reader, for they know not what they do.

5. Name dropping or using "insiderisms" is a sign of low self-esteem. References to ledes, nut graphs, inverted pyramids, names of professors, presidents and administrative assistants are all tools to convince you of the columnists' inherent correctness. An informed article is not made by who you know, it's in what you know.

6. If at the end of a column you find yourself outraged, channel the energy into finding a new hobby. Your chance of getting through to the columnists through intelligent debate or a letter to the editor is inversely proportional to how many people also wrote "intelligent" letters to the editor that day. Find a piece of leather and bite down until you're calm.

7. If the columnist is an ex-reporter, keep an eye out for errors or alliances. When you find errors, contact the ex-reporter directly and let them know. When you hit critical mass number of times contacted, the ex-reporter will become an alcoholic and stop going to work. To quicken the process, calling them out on potential alliances with press contacts doubles the effect.

8. Don't fall for partisan columnists attacking others on their own side. This gives them a sense of moderation and independence. This betrayal is actually a "free market of ideas" act of a superior columnist killing off an inferior version. The following weeks of debate that takes place on the pages of the paper will give the appearance to readers of two gorillas fighting to be alpha.

9. Avoid the hype about University-related institutions' controversy. Most of the charges and resolutions that pass in the representative institutions of our University are advice to suggest a recommendation to approve a proposal. It is a photograph of a painting of a statue that the administration is the chief sculptor of. Support your representatives, but don't be disheartened if their efforts fail to influence University administration.

10. Columnists are not paid and only partially vetted for their positions in the local University-based paper, and getting hired is mostly a first-come, first-served basis. Because the smartest students are too busy to spend their time writing an extra 900-word essay a week or are wary to discuss a complex topic in as little as 900 words, what you have are "those who are available to write." Take a good look at those mug shots; they are the window to their souls.

11. If a political columnist suddenly begins talking about something trivial, stop reading. This is called a "back-up column." When they are too tired, too sick or too late in writing a school assignment. Smart columnists will hand in a back-up column about a timeless subject worth delving into. It will be amusing, inspiring and — at times — informative. Indulge, but don't be duped by this simple ploy.

[This is where you should have started reading.]

12. Opinions columns are like lobbies. Finding a well-informed opinion in a slew of student columnists who are still being educated (or not, such as when pharmacy students talk about economics issues) on the topics they're so readily giving their opinions on is like finding pure gold in a mountain made up entirely of fool's gold. It's amusing to read, but ultimately, a waste of time.

The search for that bit of gold is worthwhile especially when found. I beseech my fellow students who are published alongside me in this newspaper to begin researching topics for longer than 15 minutes before deadline to stick to topics they understand and hopefully to stop bickering among one another. No one reading actually cares about what you think — they wish to be informed from people who dedicate their time and have proven themselves to think critically about issues.

Cagri Ozuturk is a School of Arts and Sciences senior who is majoring in both political science and journalism and media studies. He is associate news editor at The Daily Targum. 


Cagri Ozuturk

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