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How to have impact in under 24 hours

by Shari Graydon

At 3:18 pm Wednesday, University of Victoria law prof Rebecca Johnson sent a three-sentence email to Dave Obee, op ed page editor of the Times Colonist, expressing her interest in writing a commentary about a news story that had appeared in that day’s paper. He responded almost immediately, asked her what angle she was interested in exploring, and then encouraged her to go ahead, indicating he’d need the piece before noon the following day. Less than 24 hours later, he had a thoughtful and persuasive op ed for his page, and Rebecca had the promise of a byline in today’s paper.

Such exchanges aren’t always so efficient, and would-be contributors don’t always have the time and energy to turn around a piece in such a tight time frame, but it can be tremendously satisfying when it works out. The adrenalin rush that comes from responding in a timely way to something that — in Rebecca’s words — “got her goat”, can make the writing easier than if you let the moment of fury-fed inspiration pass unexpressed.

In this case, Rebecca took a news story that was mostly about one thing (a review of the operations of a local police force), but made passing reference to another (the force’s lack of diversity), and provided insight and context that illuminated the often misunderstood issue of systemic discrimination. She did this in clear, accessible prose, with generosity, compassion and a memorable observation worth quoting:

I look forward to a time when we will ask not whether the majority is happy with the status quo, but whether the status quo best serves the majority.