Sunday, June 12, 2005

Why Most Opinion Columnists are Crap

Tim Dunlop nails it to the wall until it stops bleeding:

So if the new Editor of The Age is genuinely looking to freshen things up, then good on him, but there's only one thing he should be driven by: good writing. Personally, I don't care if whomever replaces [Gerard Henderson] leans left or right--and I find the constant whining about the media has this bias, the media has that bias to be, well, childish--but I'd like these columnists to engage me as an equal rather than assume the tone of the godhead of all knowledge. I'd like to see some doubt creep into their pontificating, see them inject a bit of originality into their phrase turning, and for them to recognise that their privileged position obliges them to challenge authority, whether it be political, economic or cultural.

Or if I could be so bold as to summarize: treat the readers as equals, and you'll have a better chance of sounding interesting. Pontificating from the pulpit is not only repetitive, but boring.

Tim's post is worth reading, even if his list of columnists may be unknown to most non-Australians. I have no doubt foreigners could come up with their own equivalents (such as Tom Friedman for the U.S.)

The appallingness of columnists is the main reason why I've stopped reading print newspapers [*]. When I was back in Brisbane, I used to read The Australian; the parents bought it, and I found The Courier Mail (the only competition) to be vastly inferior. But now newspapers are more widely read on the Net than off it, and Google News allows you to choose from thousands of publications for information. That's why I can't be bothered to get the Oz from the newspapers sellers of Phạm Ngũ Lão. The Australian's stable of commentators come off looking rigid and narrow-minded compared to what is available on the net. 

[*] The only exception is the local rag Tuổi Trẻ. I read an article or two to my Vietnamese teacher during lessons. But here, the idea is to perfect my pronunciation. Since Vietnamese is a phonetic language using the Latin alphabet, it is possible to read out an article even if you don't understand the bulk of it. This is the only case where I find newspapers useful on a weekly basis.