I had my last op-ed of the year out today, and possibly my last with the Diamondback. I have to decide soon whether or not to try and keep doing this while in graduate school. I thought it would be good to reminisce about how I started writing columns, and what the experience has done for me. Enjoy!
Dernoga: The gravity of writing
By Matt Dernoga
Back in March 2008, I wrote a joke guest column titled “Gravity is a Hoax!” that imitated a stereotypical global warming denier by arguing against the existence of gravity with ludicrous assertions. This prompted The Diamondback’s opinion editor at the time to offer me a columnist position with the stipulation I would write about environmental issues.
I was going to turn down the offer because I was afraid I wouldn’t consistently have good material to write about. Then, I got an e-mail from a man in Denmark who had stumbled across my column on “gravity” and seriously thought I was denying the existence of gravity. He apparently agreed and presented me with a host of links he had found proving gravity was, in fact, a hoax.
I had to politely tell him that I was actually referring to global warming in the column (which should have been obvious). In his response, he said global warming hadn’t crossed his mind while reading since it wasn’t a debate in Europe. He was flabbergasted that a sizable percentage of Americans actually thought it was an elaborate hoax (but apparently gravity was fair game). Though I’m probably not going to go to this guy for my physics homework, it struck me at the time that my column wasn’t the joke — we were.
Most people, including activists, just don’t know a lot about environmental issues, and in many ways, it’s the media’s fault. There isn’t much written in newspapers about those issues, and when they do get attention, they’re reduced to sound bites and straw man arguments. Usually, it’s “protecting the environment will hurt the economy” in a thousand different forms.
So I took the columnist position. I’ve found it to be one of the best uses of my time here as an undergraduate. By researching the intricacies of environmental issues I often knew little about, I learned how to frame them in ways both the reader and I could understand. As an environmental activist, writing these columns challenged me to actually investigate hot topics beyond the surface. I found this made me a more capable advocate for my issues because I could weave different aspects and angles of an argument together to make a strong case.
I’m grateful for the number of people who have e-mailed me with kind words about my columns and even suggested topics to write about. Sure, it’s The Diamondback, and we tend to think the appeal of content in this paper is limited to our university bubble, but there aren’t many reporters or columnists in this state who competently write about green issues on a regular basis. As a result, I received outstanding support and column ideas from people around the state. Almost half of my column topics were actually ideas or issues brought to my attention by others. Instead of struggling to write original material, I struggled with deciding which topic to go with each week.
My time as an undergraduate is drawing to a close. Depending on what I decide to do in graduate school, this may be my last column. Either way, getting my message across to you every week has been a fun and rewarding part of my college experience. I hope you learned as much as I did. More importantly, I hope you use it. Thank you.
Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com