LA Times Editorial Page Director Sewell Chan spoke to students in Advanced Placement United States History and Advanced Placement Government over Zoom Nov. 17.
History teacher Peter Sheehy (Will ’22, Tate ’24) invited Chan to discuss Op-Ed writing with 64 of his students. Many Advanced Placement Government students, who had to write Op-Eds for a class assignment , attended the webinar.
“Who better to come in than the person who runs the editorial page of the LA Times,” Sheehy said. “This idea is to both introduce them and get them more familiar with Op-Ed writing and, since we spent a lot of time talking about the role of media politics, was an opportunity to delve further into that subject as well.”
Chan highlights the important of media literacy
Sheehy said he particularly appreciated Chan’s discussion about media literacy since it is relevant not only to history class but also to students’ lives.
“So much of what we read this year is from print journalism, whether it is newspapers or magazines like The Atlantic, and the students are learning to identify their own sources,” Sheehy said. “The more sophisticated they are as consumers of media and news, the better off they are going to be as students and citizens.”
Chan said media literacy is increasingly important, as websites filter their content for each user’s preferences using algorithms.
“The platforms know, based on your data, what kind information you are likely to respond well to, and I think that has exacerbated the problem of information silos or so-called filter bubbles where you are most likely getting information from people who already think like you, which I think can be quite dangerous,” Chan said during the webinar.
Chan describes what makes a good op-ed
Chan then talked about the need for diverse Op-Eds from writers across age and political spectrums. He discussed how the LA Times strives to be impartial and that even though most LA Times readers are liberals, Chan tries to publish conservative viewpoints as well.
“I found it interesting how students can get involved in politics by writing Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion pieces,” Maya Mathur ’22 said . “It was also interesting to learn about how Mr. Chan balances the majority of Los Angeles’ political affiliations and those who wish to write in his section.”
Chan recommended that Op-Ed writers mention life experiences to support their opinions and keep in mind how readers will perceive and respond to their writing.
“Good writing comes from the ground up,” Chan said . “It comes with a sense of detail, a sense of character, a sense of empathy, an ability to observe, some self-knowledge and self-awareness, which is something that everyone is on a lifelong journey to acquire.”