The temptations of the Regular Columnist

I have been neglecting my blog in recent times, because whatever creative energy I have is going towards completing a book, which I am hoping to get on the shelves in the Autumn, all going well. Of the various books I have published over the years the biggest seller was one I wrote twenty one years ago, called From the Inside. So I am tempted to call this latest opus From the Outside. But that may change before the final touches are put on it, which will be some months away yet.

So, just a brief reflection on the current experience with a contagious virus that we are having in this country, and indeed right across the world. As I write the airwaves and the print media are full of it, with all types of opinions being expressed.

I spent a good number of years as a regular columnist for a magazine, and in the course of that time I learned a couple of fairly essential requirements for a successful columnist. And in this context I am measuring success for a columnist by the simple reality of the particular outlet retaining your services. No matter how brilliant you might think your articles are, if the editor informs you some day that your services are no longer required, then you are not a success.

A regular columnist needs to be opinionated. An article that contains a lot of nuance, a fair bit of ‘on the one hand, and on the other hand’, may well be more true to the reality of what you are writing about, but it does not make for easy reading, and is unlikely to be picked up by other media outlets. (Your editor will always be pleased if your article becomes a discussion topic in various radio morning shows). Note the success of people like Ivan Yates, who seem to work on the notion that the more simplistic and dogmatic the opinion, the better. 

If you are writing regularly, your column needs, at least on some occasions, to deal with whatever is topical. No matter how bright and intelligent you might think you are, you are inevitably not an expert on every subject. But the temptation is to put that aside, and if you are going to write on the topic, better to masquerade as an expert, in so far as you can get away with it. My impression is that a great many columnist, when they are writing about something that they are not particularly knowledgeable about, become more abrasive and dogmatic in an effort to hide their lack of knowledge.

Which gets me back to the Coronavirus. I believe that our health authorities are handling this situation with great skill and clarity up to this point. I know, and I’m sure they do, that there are bigger challenges ahead, but up to now I believe we are being extremely well served by the people in charge. It would be helpful, considering the difficulty of what we are faced with, if we had less of the dogmatism of the columnist, who know very little compared to the professionals in the field, and I thank God that our policy isn’t being driven by some of those I have read in recent days. In this I am referring to the regular media. As for social media on this topic, – don’t even go there.