It’s way harder than you think to come up with opinion article ideas

Jamie Holt // The Flat Hat

Adam Jutt ’25 is planning on double majoring in economics and math. Aside from being an opinions editor, he is a member of Club Tennis and involved with InterVarsity. Feel free to email Adam at adjutt@wm.edu. 

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

Suppose you are on staff with the opinions section of The Flat Hat. Furthermore, suppose you are scheduled to write an article roughly once every four weeks. Further still, suppose that this week happens to be one such week. The first time you sit down to start drafting your piece, you find yourself staring blankly at an equally blank Word document. For some reason, no good idea is coming to you. No worries. It’s only Tuesday, after all, and your article isn’t due until Sunday (technically Saturday, but you’re the bad boy of the section and play by your own rules). So, you stand up, close your laptop and go play racquetball with a few friends. You’ll come up with an idea by Thursday.

Thursday comes, though it has brought no ideas along with it. Your Word document, currently titled “article,” is as blank as ever. Once again, no problem. It isn’t your first rodeo. You didn’t have the idea for the last article you wrote until the weekend it was due. Everything will be fine. Still, you silently concede to yourself that this time feels different. You’re not sure an idea is coming. You try to take your mind off the impending crisis with some racquetball, a strategy which always works like a charm. For what it’s worth, all the practice is paying off; you’re no Kane Waselenchuk yet, but you’re good. Last time you played a little crowd even developed outside the box to watch you and your buddy smack the ol’ rubber back and forth. Is the racquetball arena called the box? Is “smacking the ol’ rubber” a real expression for playing racquetball? Probably no on both counts. Regardless, you’re getting good.

It’s Saturday, April 16. You are having a full-blown meltdown. You beg and plead with God, imploring him to give you an idea. It doesn’t even have to be a good one, just something passable. God refrains. The most promising fruit of your brainstorming session — which has just elapsed the two-hour mark — is to write about how much fun racquetball is. You know it’s a terrible idea, but it’s all you have at the moment. On a separate note, you might have an addiction to racquetball. No time to think about that now, though. Absent last-minute divine intervention, you conclude that the only way to preserve your journalistic dignity is to resign from the newspaper.

As I’m sure you’ve surmised, the scenario I just put you through mirrors the events of the last week of my life, with respect to this article, nearly inimitably.

Let’s take a step back.

I knew this day would come. The instant I took on a role with the opinions section of The Flat Hat, I knew this day would come. I knew I would run out of opinions eventually. So, I developed a contingency plan: in the event I am scheduled to write but simply cannot articulate a single defensible stance I have on anything related to the College of William and Mary, I will write about how hard it is to come up with good opinions related to the College. It would save my hind for the week, and it might even get a laugh or two.

However, I did not expect this day to come so quickly. I assumed this article topic would need to be called to action in my waning days as a second semester senior, after I had developed a reputation around campus as a hard-hitting, straight-shooting editorialist who always has something to argue and doesn’t care what people think about it (just kidding about the “doesn’t care what people think about it” part; my primary goal in every article I write is to avoid making people mad at me). I did not think I would be tapping into this well as a fresh-faced freshman who has written just four articles. Yes, you read that correctly. I managed to muster out only four opinions before finding myself bled dry of unique takes. Four. That’s less than one-third the number of U.S. Open titles belonging to racquetball legend Kane Waselenchuk.

I maintain that the problem lies not with me, but with the system.

It is basically impossible to come up with interesting, novel opinions related to the College. You have already been made privy to my testimonial on the issue, but — being the discerning, no-nonsense, sharply critical readers you are — I know that my individual experience is unlikely to persuade you of such an audacious statement. So, to convince you of my point on a more rigorous level — a level which I pray will meet your unscrupulously high standards — I will share with you two systemic factors that make this job tough.

First, consider the fact that there are roughly 1,440 opinion articles already on the website, and further that the record only extends back to 2007. While technically there is no policy against repeated topics and stances, I think most writers, staff and guest alike, would prefer to develop and submit pieces with which flathatnews.com is yet to be acquainted. I envy the members of the first Flat Hat administration, back in 1911. Back in those days, someone could publish an article entitled “registration sucks” or “all dorms should have air conditioning” (AC was invented in 1902, so yes — the timeline works) and be labeled a real William Randolph Hearst, by golly. As more and more articles get published, the pool of potential groundbreaking, persuasive, cogent, envelope-pushing ideas shrinks.

Second, the college environment itself is uniquely unconducive to opinions articles, namely because not much changes around here. In the outside world, things always seem to be happening — developments, scandals, controversy, slaps, wars, Supreme Court Justices, firings of USA racquetball executive directors, etc. There are always new things to latch onto and develop opinions about. Life at the College is different. Seldom are there meaningful developments on the institutional level. The things that are bad this semester, for the most part, were bad last semester. The things that are good have been good for a while.

That’s not to say things don’t happen, or that it’s boring here. It is just to say that the calm, steady churning of the watermill that we know as the academic calendar, coupled with the oft-discussed long history of the College, promote a strange sort of misty sleepiness in the air, providing the acute and peculiar sensation of either insignificance or peace, depending on one’s disposition. Of course, often we aren’t able to see the watermill as some distant and controlled force, namely because we live inside it. Inside the watermill, everything seems chaotic and important and stressful. But in those moments when we gain enough perspective to look upon it as a system external to ourselves, we are struck by its predictability, not its volatility. We see, as the Bible puts it, that “what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” The metronomic makes for good musing and good poetry, but, unfortunately, not for good editorial journalism.

My argument must be qualified slightly. I am not saying that there are no good thus-far-unpublished opinions out there. We as a paper put out a steady stream of impressive, insightful articles that are very much uncharted territory. Sometimes we do this by verging outside the realm of college life to the events of the world at large, sometimes by paying attention when something noteworthy does happen on campus, and sometimes by simply arguing something no one has ever thought to argue, finding a diamond in the rough.

If I am not declaring the death of the section, then what am I saying? Four things.

First, I am saying exactly what the title of this article says I am saying: It is really hard to consistently think up new opinions, and — given the relative stability and repetitiousness of college — it’s only getting harder. It’s harder than hitting a Z-serve up set point against undisputed racquetball GOAT Kane Waselenchuk.

Second, I am saying that if you disagree with that general point — if opinions flow through your mind like the milk and honey of the promised land — you should reach out to me, either to start writing columns regularly or to give me your ideas so I don’t have to pull a stunt like this again.

Third, I am saying that if you ever want to play racquetball against me, let me know. I am in.

Fourth and finally, I am saying that I am scared. If my pieces have already devolved into the quasi-meta nonsense you are reading right now, I am deeply worried about what they will look like late next fall. I apologize in advance.

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Adam Jutt
Adam Jutt ’25 is an economics and math double major…potentially. Aside from serving as an opinions editor with The Flat Hat, he is a member of the club tennis team and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and enjoys playing basically every sport under the sun (except bowling– he doesn’t care for bowling one bit and he doesn’t care who knows). In his free time, Adam can normally be found watching SNL, John Mulaney, or Parks and Rec clips on YouTube.

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