As a writer it’s easy to take for granted that people who aren’t journalists understand what happens when you’re asked to write something. So here’s how it works.
A news organisation rings up and asks you to do a piece. Obviously you say yes so they’ll tell you how much they’ll pay you, how many words they want and when by. They’ll also give you an idea of the feel of the piece. So in the case of an opinion piece they might tell you they want something that’ll irritate people enough to make a comment.
Now’s the fun bit. You think about what you want to say and scope out a rough outline. Sometimes you can’t think of a way to start the story so you begin in the middle and wait for an introduction to come. Other times you know instantly how it’s going to start and everything then slots into place.
Easy, right? Well it would be if there weren’t two fairly significant constraints. First you have a deadline. In the case of the price of petrol story http://us.cnn.com/2012/02/28/opinion/opinion-european-gas-prices/index.html, I was asked to write it just before midday and the deadline was 3pm the same day.
Second, you only have a certain number of words. To make something readable you need to cover more than one point. So you can’t drill into any single point in any great detail. The result is you cover a handful of points but none in too much depth. And time constraints generally mean you research and offer only the facts that back up your argument.
These aren’t excuses, they’re simply the rules of the game. And they result, hopefully, in a story that provokes thought and gives people plenty of scope to add their own opinion.