The prof weighs in: Ontario’s editorial writers bombed
Being an editorialist must be fun. They spend their days reading and thinking and forming opinions on all manner of issues. Every so often they dash off an essay revealing the brilliance of their reasoning and the poetry of their writing. Actually, it sounds a bit like being an undergraduate student. Except they have no part-time job or 500 other students competing to get the same books out of the library.
However, there are two more important differences. Unlike students, they don’t face the discipline that comes with signing their work. More importantly, they miss the rigor of regular grading to tell them how they are progressing in developing their reasoning and writing skills.
Editorialists would benefit from a regular grading of their work. I am therefore returning the annotated copies of their latest essays on the Ontario election. Summary comments and the grades at the end the essays are reproduced here for handy comparative reference.
The essay topic was “What party should voters support in the upcoming Ontario election?” Editorialists were asked to write up to 1,000 words giving well-reasoned, positive arguments supporting their advice to voters. No credit was given for whom they decided to endorse. Marks were based solely on their reasoning, supporting evidence, and a clear and concise writing style that avoided the use of hyperbole and bombast.
Toronto Star: Good job of focusing on the positive reasons that you support the Liberal Party, citing a “progressive agenda” including pension reform, transit funding, home care, northern resource development and Ontario Pension Plan. However, you fail to make the link to one of the key concerns of the campaign – economic growth. In your assessment of Ms. Wynne, you highlight her “political skills and personal integrity”. Unfortunately, your assessment of the other two parties’ leaders platforms descends quickly into hyperbole and personal attacks. Your analysis suffers from devoting relatively little space to the second key preoccupation of the campaign, the government deficit and the Liberal plan to address it. Finally, “fetishizing” is not a word. Grade: C.
National Post: Unfortunately, you spend fully two-thirds of your essay criticizing the former premier, instead of focusing on your preferred option and the positive reasons supporting your choice. Your vituperative attack on the Liberals is a poor substitute for a reasoned argument in support of the Conservatives. Further, your characterization of the mathematical errors in the Conservative plan as “glitches” is akin to suggesting that the Titanic suffered from “glitches” in its navigation plan. Finally, you attribute to Mr. Hudak commitments that he avoided in the course of the campaign, namely “war with Ontario’s public sector unions” and adding competition to the liquor retail system. Overall, a weak essay that fails to focus sufficient attention on the Conservatives key proposals to spur economic growth and substantially reduce the size of government. Grade: D.
Note: Student services offers anger management counseling free of charge (for now).
Toronto Sun: A pithy contribution to the debate, your assignment uses less than half of the allotted number of words to make your case. Unfortunately, you devote the first half of your essay to describing your personal epiphany rather than making a reasoned case for your recommendation. You do hit both of the key issues in your arguments, i.e. economic growth and the government deficit, but you focus on attacking the Liberals rather than providing arguments in support the Conservatives’ plan. Your essay would benefit from providing evidence rather than assertions in support of your preferred choice. Grade: C.
GLOBE AND MAIL
Globe and Mail: Of all the essays submitted, yours is the longest and most confusing. Your main point seems to be that while it is time for the Liberals to go, you don’t want the Conservatives to implement their plan. You devote less than a single paragraph in your essay to giving positive reasons to vote Conservative. Recommending that voters return a minority Conservative government is nonsensical. How do voters practically implement such a recommendation? Are you recommending they vote NDP? If you were truly unable to recommend a party, perhaps you could have recommended that voters support their preferred local candidate. The danger is that your advice may be interpreted as “don’t bother to vote”. Grade: F.
Next week’s assignment will be to give practical advice to the newly elected government (if one can be formed). As always, 1,000 word maximum. Support your arguments with evidence and be sure to avoid hyperbole and bombast.
Paul Boothe is professor and director of the Lawrence National Centre at Western’s Ivey Business School. He has served as a deputy minister in both federal and provincial governments, most recently as deputy minister of Environment Canada.
The prof weighs in: Ontario’s editorial writers bombed (external - login to view)