Maneuvering voice in neutral writing

In this 2016 Washington Post article,  Brady Dennis covers controversies in the transition of EPA administration after Trump’s election.  It stood out to me among the readings because in comparison, I found this piece to be particularly full of voice.  Voice is an important part of every writer’s writing because it gives a distinct personality to their pieces.  I’m wondering what everyone thinks about voice in news style writing and the impacts it has on this article.  Where I believe voice is used to convey yourself through your writing, how are you able to do this effectively when writing about issues you’re supposed to be opinionless on? And in what ways does Brady Dennis’ voice act as a benefit or a detriment (if it’s a detriment at all) to his news article?

I’d also like to analyze the structure of the piece. I found their lead concise and captivating.  Their nutgraf didn’t contain any statistics but gave background information on Myron Ebell. Their kicker wasn’t very conclusive, and quotes weren’t used until the second half of the article and all were from secondary sources.  Thoughts or observations on these tactics?



10 Responses to “Maneuvering voice in neutral writing”

  1. Dennis’ short profile on Myron Ebell appears to be borderline opinionated, but I don’t think this article would fit well in an opinion column either. His voice definitely comes out, describing Ebell’s work to possibly “obliterate Obama’s environmental legacy”, and painting Trump’s transition website as an “oil and gas industry wish list”. However, I think the reason Dennis’ voice comes out so strong is due to the quotes he picked to describe Ebell. Dennis writes that Ebell declined to comment for his story, and Dennis in turn chose to include the punchiest of quotes to put in the article. The quotes make Ebell seem like a villian of the environmental movement, making the article appear more opinionated. An actual interview probably would have made Ebell appear less villainous, but that’s something Dennis was unable use.

  2. I agree with you that voice is a very important component of all writing but I also think it becomes difficult to keep ones voice unbiased particularly in highly polarized political discussions. One of the main side affects of voice is implying actions and thoughts to people that were never actually voiced or intended by the individual. For instance, when Dennis says that, “He has gleefully opposed environmentalists” he is painting a very specific image of Ebell. I think this is great if the image is accurate and can be supported by quotes and examples, but for me this is where this piece falls short. The fact that Dennis only uses quotes from secondary sources decreases the validity of his piece and decreases the support for the images and personalities that he is portraying with his voice. Ones voice is only going to be as powerful as the quotes that back it up. If voice becomes a vehicle to portray an authors opinions instead of their investigative findings then it should be left out.

  3. I disagree that the use of only secondary sources for quotes decreases the validity of the piece. In my mind, Brady Dennis was exploring the potential implications of Myron Ebell overseeing the EPA transition by reporting on Ebell’s long history of dismissing the climate crisis on several other public platforms. For me, this is more helpful to know than a new quote from Ebell himself or his office that simply serves to paint Ebell in a positive light.

    I do think that Dennis’ voice is biased. This is especially evident in the line “but it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out the likely list of priorities”, referring to Dennis’ work and appointments for the EPA. This line has a negative connotation, and it could have been expressed more neutrally. However, I cannot criticize Dennis for being biased. We’ve discussed multiple times in class that climate change is one of the few stories in which journalists cannot ethically represent “both sides” to the issue. Climate change deniers should not be given a platform. So, can we really slam Dennis for expressing criticism toward the appointment of a climate change denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency? I don’t think so.

  4. I think that Dennis’ voice is certainly biased in this article, and while this style of writing may be more interesting to read, it does not provide objective news. By using words like “obliterate” when referring to Ebell’s plans, he adds negative connotation to sentences that describe his actions. The article also unnecessarily clarifies that Ebell “is not a scientist,” using this anecdote to discredit his opinions on scientific matters. Dennis also includes editorial phrases, such as “it doesn’t take much imagination…” In these ways, he guides the readers opinion without telling them what to think outright.

    I think the quotes painted a portrait of Ebell, but again a clearly biased one, as they all criticized or seemed to ridicule his environmental opinions, especially the way they were framed. Adding to the bias was the lack of quotes from Ebell himself, because both sides of the story were not equally represented (although it was Ebell who declined to comment, so this is not entirely Dennis’ fault). I think that while this was an interesting read, it was definitely an opinionated piece and the writer’s voice was the primary contributor to the bias.

  5. The bias in this piece is very evident. While I found it engaging to read because it was dramatic and contained a strong human factor, it certainly wasn’t objective, so I don’t feel as though I could have an educated conversation about this subject after reading this article; I’d need to do additional research in order to see if the viewpoint in this article are factual, or potentially exaggerated, and what the other side believes. I found the quotes on this article very powerful. Instead of listing off the items on Trump’s agenda related to rolling back parts of the Clean Power Act, they was conveyed through quotes.

    I’d like to also point out the use of the Pope in this piece seems out of place. In fact, it also felt as though it was included in order to make a certain group of people upset – perhaps people who admire the Pope/Church will be offended that a member of the Trump administration was, as the author wrote, “quick to pounce” on the Pope’s statement about the importance of protecting the environment.

  6. Before I even read Dennis’ article, I had a feeling that the writing would likely be more subjective, as the source of the news article is the Washington Post, which in my experience tends to run a little more slanted. I really appreciated Dennis’ voice in how he was able to use his discretion in reporting to point out flaws in logic of the government officials he is writing about. Beyond Dennis, I think that voice can be a useful tool for providing a more analytical news/feature, rather than just reporting hard facts. That being said, I think that Dennis may have delved a little too far in the subjective writing, as it often took away from space to provide more hard facts and other opinions. The article was quite lacking on data over what the EPA actually accomplished (or not) under Obama and instead seemed like a dissection of Myron Ebell’s public statements, which does not seem particularly productive for a news article.

    Regarding the structure of the piece, I too thought the lede effective, as it clearly signaled the purpose of the article: to discuss how EPA regulations might be changing under the then upcoming Trump administration. I appreciated that Dennis gave background on Ebell and connections with the Koch brothers, as this created an implied conflict of interest within the Trump administration. I really just wish that he had focused more on actual EPA regulations and changes and their effects, rather than the morality of Ebell and Trump regarding environmental discourse. I feel that this would have made the article slightly less engaging, but more useful overall.

  7. I agree with you that voice is very important in an objective news article. However it needs to be voice without bias, which, as I agree with my class mates, this does not have. Dennis’s use of certain vocabulary emphasizes his opinions about what he is writing. Voice is very important in a news piece as it adds to the sense of “why should people be reading this.”

    In his structure I would say there needs to be more of a grabber that draws the audience in and connects them to the rest of the news article. Something almost shocking or unexpected to get the readers attention. I also think that the use of his quotes were okay even though they were secondary sources. They still showed meaning and influenced his news article in my opinion.

  8. Voice is a component that can easily convey bias within an article. I think it is important for an author to be aware of this, and work to minimize bias conveyed through their voice. However, without voice, an article can be bland and easily lose the readers attention. Finding a balance of minimal bias while including the authors voice allows for readers to stay engaged while also maintaining the credibility of the article.

    In regards to the structure, I believe that the article’s led was okay, but it’s influence was diminished as there wasn’t a strong nut graph to hone in the purpose and importance of the article. I also think that the kicker was extremely biased and weakened the value of the topic, as opposed to something open ended that would have influenced the reader to think more about the subject.

  9. I agree that the voice of the author is a big factor in this story, and despite the slight bias that it might reveal, the strength of the voice in this piece adds more value than bias would take away, but this could have been overcome better with more incorporation of quotes and impartial sources. I think that with the message and implications that Dennis is attempting to imply with this article, the voice is a big factor in getting things across, despite the fact that it is now seen as biased. In the future, having direct sources could help alleviate this issue, which raises the question of how much the authors voice can affect bias when they choose to include the direct quotes and voices of others within the piece, such as Ebell. It would be interesting to see how the article would change with a direct interview with Ebell, as opposed to just analyzing his public statements, and I think it would be a more even article with that added component.

  10. I think Alena, brings up good questions about voice. I’m not sure of the place of voice in journalism, but I do think it’s truly hard to maintain objectivity. That’s not necessarily a sign to forgo all sensibility and just share opinions, but I think a part of journalism is to get views from both sides.

    Recently, the president tweeted out:

    We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me). They are all bad. Winner to receive the FAKE NEWS TROPHY!

    He obviously has some preferences, and deep down I think we all do. I think Brady Dennis did a good job of staying out of the issue, even though he leans one direction more heavily. Yet, is it truly where the focus of journalism should be? Could there be a better system?

    Like rsimonov mentions in the comments, based on the news source we kind of already know what we’re getting ourselves into before we started reading the news. That’s the same for our president if it’s not Fox News he’s not going to listen to it. In the comments, there’s a lot of back and forth. At the end of the day, we’re all sharing our opinion and voice as humans… isn’t that what humans do? Acting like we don’t is a disservice in my opinion. I think if more people read the news with a critical eye watching out for biases, we might get somewhere. Readers have a duty to verify the knowledge within articles on their own as well…. They shouldn’t accept someone else’s work blindly. I think that’s the real problem.

    As for structure, the article seemed really jumpy and it didn’t flow very well. It made me less comfortable reading it and a little bit less coherent. I’d recommend that Dennis look at his progression and ax unnecessary quotes in favor of maintaining a better flow.

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