by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
In the short time I have been writing a column for the Tribune, I’ve discovered a lot about column writing and the people who read newspaper columns.
Surprisingly, a lot of readers seem to expect an editorial column to offer “balanced” journalism. “You didn’t fully present the other side,” is a common complaint. Well, first of all, there is a reason this is called the editorial page. Second, if the “other side” is a bunch of lies and propaganda, why should it be given equal consideration in an editorial or even in a newspaper article?
The “balanced” complaint reveals the common, and disturbing, belief among readers that journalists must give equal space to both sides of an issue to do their job well. But is balance really what the public needs from journalism?
Shouldn’t journalism instead be fair? Presenting facts as facts and spin as spin? Today, the journalistic standard of the mainstream media is to present one side’s spin and then the other side’s spin, steering well clear of any facts lest the reporter or media outlet be accused of bias or taking sides. This type of reporting can’t deal well with shades of gray and eschews the fact that most issues have more that two well-defined sides.
Most subscribers don’t realize that in the age of blogs, wikis, and rss feeds, a column can be distributed around the planet before the printed paper even hits the front porch. If you write about a controversial topic, you might get dozens of emails from people all around the world. In fact, the majority of feedback comes from people who don’t even subscribe to the Tribune.
A lot of bloggers take the liberty to post your column to their Web site. You might think this would be the most sincere form of flattery. But just as often, your column is posted so it can be pilloried. It is an odd feeling to be surfing the Internet and come across your own writing on a blog, where people you have never met are commenting that you are a “pasty-faced metro-sexual.” I’m not really sure what a metro-sexual is, but I don’t think its a compliment.
Sometimes a column shows up in weird places on the Internet. My words have appeared on freehealth facts.net, funerals.it and even archaeologynews.org. These sites are obviously desperate for material. Some columns even get translated into another language for the benefit of the locals. “J. Scott Christianson bor og arbejder” says a posting to a Web site located in Denmark. I’m not sure what “bor og arbejder” means, but I hope it is not Danish for metro-sexual.
Having your column posted on some blogs such as FARK.com or dailykos.com can lead to dozens of emails from people all over the world about how great you are or what a jerk you are. While I have yet to receive an actual death threat, many readers have predicted what will happen to my soul after I am departed and what I should say to Lucifer upon my arrival.
I am surprised by how much enjoyment I get from hate mail. There is satisfaction from writing something that elicits such an emotional response. And some of the people who send hate mail really put a lot into their writing. But let me give some advice to future hate-mailers. If you are writing a 10-page letter, don’t start off with “Burn in Hell!”, “You’re an ass!”, or any such imperatives. Save that until the end. You see, the recipient might not bother reading your entire manifesto if it starts with “Go *#^@ yourself!”
While dramatic, insults just don’t seem to be a good hook to draw in the reader. Compare: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” and “Call me Ishmael” with “You suck!” It just doesn’t have that literary ring that makes you want to read more. Instead try something like: “I’m not surprised that a pasty-faced metro-sexual like yourself would think that Scientology is not based on sound science.”