OpEd Project mentor-editor and seminar leader (as well as journalist, author and professor) Michele Weldon expresses in the following video why she dedicates time and effort to the OEP. I interviewed Michele, who shared valuable advice on getting one’s voice heard and not letting laundry or criticism slow one down.
What are some tangible effects of an op-ed (that you wrote or edited)?
I wrote a piece, “Keeping Predators Away from Young Athletes,” about Jerry Sandusky for The Chicago Tribune a few days after the charges. The conversation in the media was all about the impacts of the scandal on coach Joe Paterno and what it was like for Penn state to have to deal with that legacy. As the mother of three sons, I wrote about how this child abuse case affects the children and how as parents we need to shift the conversation. The Chicago Tribune was one of the first large media outlets to respond to the scandal in a way that didn’t focus on the football program. I don’t feel fully responsible for directing subsequent conversation but am really proud that I was one of the first people to write about what happened in a way that focused on children; I was also the only person to write about the scandal as the mother of athletes. I feel really gratified by the comments posted on The Chicago Tribune’s website, on twitter and on Facebook in response to my article. It got people talking about the boys and about necessary regulations and screening.
Another example of an op-ed that yielded tangible results is an article I edited by PVF scholar Jenna Davis, about the need for global indoor plumbing. After the article was published on CNN, she was contacted by the World Bank to be on a panel.
Do you feel like certain aspects of your personality have helped you make your voice heard publicly and challenge participants at seminars effectively?
You have to have tough skin. I’ve published pieces that are more personal in nature. I write about raising my sons without a father present and reference other parts of my personal life; this tends to invite some vicious personal attacks that are unrelated to the content. I’ve learned that this abdication isn’t ever going to deter me from the process of truth telling. You have to view these comments as making no more sense than a pit-bull barking at you as you pass by.
I’m also able to channel my energies in different ways, modeling for scholars and seminar participants that you can be really effective with your time even if your time is minimal. I work full-time as a university professor and am a single parent with three children but I still go to events and am on volunteer boards. I make the time to also insert my voice in public places where I feel I can make a meaningful contribution. It’s not about multitasking; it’s about prioritizing. I choose to write an op-ed for three hours, not go out to lunch three times a week. I try to show participants how not to let the business of everyday life silence your voice in the public sphere. I think a lot of people have difficulty with that but busy people need to see that they must make time for their important voices.
As a journalism professor, from which platform would you encourage people to broadcast their opinions?
I wouldn’t limit oneself to any particular platform. I’d try to engage in various social media outlets to open up available avenues. I just did two TED-Ed lessons, which I think are crazy cool. I’m learning and expanding in all different areas. I’m traditionally a print person but do audio and video work as well. It’s important to be flexible and nimble in getting one’s voice out in the world.