The Catalyst’s readership numbers are, to the best of my knowledge, unknown. I can’t imagine anyone has taken the time to conduct a survey recently, and I know I haven’t taken the time to do so myself.
I’ve written, by my count, dozens of articles for the opinion section. My first was about a letter from the University of Chicago decrying political correctness and why that letter was wrong. I’ve written about Star Wars, Ted Cruz, Mohammed bin Salman, the importance of voting, making your bed, Queer Eye, and Pete Buttigieg. I’ve written not knowing who, if anyone, would read my work. But if you’re reading this, thank you — and I sincerely hope you take the time to consider writing for the opinion section. It’s worth it.
This newspaper is not a chance to get famous or noticed by some big journalistic name. I once slyly dropped that I was an opinion section writer and editor to a big New York Times head honcho type, and the man didn’t even react. It is a chance, though, to explore multiple dimensions of writing.
Anything can be an opinion article if it is written well enough. One of the best articles I ever read was an argument entirely about semicolons and how pretentious they are. I may have focused chiefly on politics and pop culture, but there are so many other places to go and arguments to be made. A well-constructed argument about something totally inane will make a far better article than a poorly worded article about something ostensibly more important.
Writing for the student newspaper can also give you a chance to work hard at something outside of your comfortable academic zone. In the natural sciences, my area of study, it can be difficult to strike a balance between developing a base of knowledge and scientific acumen while still developing your writing. Writing for The Catalyst can feel like a breath of fresh air and is a chance to flex your writing muscles with no grade looming. That being said, you might not always care about your article, but writing and learning from your editors can drive you to be better, regardless of the subject.
Knowing how to write will make you a good writer in ways that can be applied to just about any subject, in any area of your life.
In writing and working for The Catalyst, you become a better writer, if nothing else. Writing is something that can only be partially taught — the rest is experience. You learn to self-critique, progressively needing fewer edits the more you write, as you begin to learn the traps you fall in to. The first article I wrote for The Catalyst came back with loads of red marks and comments crisscrossing the page. The most recent pieces I have written were nearly unchanged, as I have learned how to write something worth publishing before editors even get to it. You reinforce basic rules and grammar the more time you spend around creating and workshopping writing that will be published. An educator may take points off for an errant comma or a repeated word, but it is a dent to the publication you write for if those mistakes slip through. Newspaper writing contributes to a clean, controlled, crisp product.
The Catalyst is a unique platform, an opportunity to have your voice heard in a way that you maybe have never had and maybe never will again. Some people will be famous authors and some will be journalists, but not everyone will have a platform. The Catalyst provides just that: a place for student voices to be heard, opinions to be shared in the public forum, your by-line underneath a title. It’s small but significant — the chance to create something and have it printed, archived, and read by the community.
I don’t know how many people read The Catalyst. The number is far fewer than I would like, I think, and I would venture that only a fraction of the campus reads anything on any given Friday. Perhaps it’s just the people whose friends tell them to read their article. But writing for The Catalyst is an entirely different realm. It can challenge you in novel ways. It can open up skills you didn’t know you had, spur new growth, and force you down avenues of inquiry you had never thought of previously. It’s 700 words, give or take, once a week. I implore you, reader, to give it a chance. You never know what may come of spending more time with a blank page and your own thoughts and feelings, hammered in to rational form. Thanks for reading.