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Writing Guide with Handbook

10.2 Position Argument Trailblazer: Charles Blow

Writing Guide with Handbook10.2 Position Argument Trailblazer: Charles Blow

Position Argument Trailblazer: Charles Blow

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate critical thinking when reading in varying rhetorical and cultural contexts.
  • Articulate and analyze rhetorical and cultural contexts in reading.
  • Distinguish relationships between the interplay of verbal and nonverbal elements, and explain how these features function for different audiences and situations.
Charles Blow, an American journalist, sits with a student as they discuss Blow’s text Fire Shut Up in My Bones.
Figure 10.2 Charles Blow (credit: “Charles Blow and Jillian Karanda 4-23-18” by Kelly Writers House/flickr, CC BY 2.0)

“I . . . us[e] visual evidence . . . charts and maps and diagrams to support my positions.”


Trendsetting journalist Charles Blow (b. 1970) attended Grambling State University in Louisiana, where he edited his college newspaper, founded a student magazine, and interned (worked as a trainee to gain experience) in various positions. While a student, he heard The New York Times was participating in a job conference in Atlanta and decided to attend. When he arrived, however, he learned he was supposed to have preregistered, paid a fee, filled out a form, and submitted an essay. Undeterred, Blow borrowed pencil from a guard, completed the form, paid the fee, and wrote the essay on the spot. He then gained entry into the conference. When he got to the booth sponsored by The New York Times, he was told he would not be interviewed because he had not signed up beforehand. Again undeterred, Blow decided to wait anyway, thinking someone who had signed up might not appear for their interview. He waited until early evening and eventually was granted an interview. At the end of his interview, he was told that he had been impressive but that The New York Times had no openings at the time. The next day, however, a representative from the paper approached him again and announced they had created an internship for him.

In 1991, Blow graduated magna cum laude (with great distinction) with a degree in mass communications and began a journalism career, working in various cities. In 2008, he returned to The New York Times as its first “visual” op-ed columnist, writing opinion pieces that feature graphic aids such as diagrams, charts, and tables. In his visual op-ed column, Blow presents his position or argument, with the intent to persuade readers to agree with him. To augment what he says in print, he includes graphic aids, which clarify and simplify data. Blow is cautious, too, about using visuals that are too complex, for he believes his readers respond better to “a strong point . . . in a visual nugget that they can digest right away.”

Blow’s topics revolve around current events, and his readers—his audience—expect his columns to highlight his positions on, or arguments about, hot-button issues in current events. Blow calls himself a “trend spotter,” someone on the cutting edge of what is happening in the nation and the world. To discover ideas for topics about current events, Blow keeps his office television tuned to news channels so he can learn of breaking news or of how news is being covered. That is where his writing process usually begins.

First, when an interesting news item comes over the airwaves, Blow decides his opinion on the subject. Then he thinks about whether his readers might care about the subject. He does not stop there, though. Because Blow is a visual op-ed columnist, he will not pursue the topic if he cannot think of a visual hook to support his position or argument. He then studies data about the topic and asks himself whether the data surprises him or might surprise readers. His audience expects solid graphic aids in his columns, and it is the combination of written prose and visual hooks that makes him stand apart from other op-ed writers.

In addition to writing for The New York Times, Blow is the author of the memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones and The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto.

Discussion Questions

1 .
If you were to turn on the television today, what current topics might make interesting opinion columns?
2 .
How might Blow’s use of graphics as evidence help support a point in a column?
3 .
What kinds of graphics could you use to support the topic(s) you identified in question #1?
4 .
Do you agree or disagree with Blow’s claim that visuals should be simple and easily digestible rather than complex? Explain your thinking.
5 .
Blow calls himself a “trend spotter.” In your college, your town, or the country as a whole, what is a current trend that might interest Blow?
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