Controversial Opinions Do Not Make ‘Bad’ Journalism

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Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

Whether you come from the left, liberal, do-gooder, social justice warrior end of the spectrum, or whether you come from the ‘protect what’s ours’, social Darwinist realm of the right, there are extremes which many are keen to avoid being associated with. Both ends have journalists who are defensive to the very end of their ideology, no matter how controversial the topic is. But many readers when seeing these articles on controversial topics are quick to accuse the journalist, and journalism as a whole of being ‘bad’. This in my opinion, is totally wrong. 

Whether or not you agree with someone’s opinion, it is important to have respect for the art of writing. You can sit and argue the finer details of someone’s views until the cows come home, but, ultimately, unless there are inherent factual inaccuracies, extremist proclamations, or actual flaws in the writing of the piece, I believe that journalism can never be called objectively bad. Say you go to see a play, or a concert, and you cannot stand the story; you think it is badly written, it involves topics one should never put on stage, or say you don’t like the sound of a violin. Those factors do not make that art or that performance objectively bad. You can still appreciate the art of the violinist and how they perform, you can still appreciate the tense pauses an actor and director have spent months of rehearsals perfecting.

There will always be defining arguments that generate polar opposite positions in every generation. For us, some of them seem like a no-brainer, but they aren’t, otherwise they wouldn’t be arguments at all. From poll tax in our parent’s generation, the miners strikes, Margaret Thatcher, and even Blur versus Oasis, to the arguments dominating opinion columns today like Trump and his Wall, immigration, Brexit, the environment and anti-vaxxers. It is so easy for people to dismiss the opinions of others in favour of the ones they already hold, by consuming the accessible journalism that only aligns with pre-existing views. Polling stations and council meetings are not the only places that the electorate and beyond express their opinions anymore. Anyone can be a published writer (even me), anyone can start a petition and anyone can get their voice heard. I think it is integral to this that we still retain respect for a writer, and for their craft, whether or not we agree with what they write. Journalism is about showing the length and breadth of the political system. Arguing over opinion is one thing, personal attacks on the writer or their work is another.

There will always be controversial figures in national politics and student politics. There will always be controversial writers. I am not going to tell you where my politics sit, but I will tell you, I, like many writers, have been attacked for my views. I have friends who write from the far right, the far left, and everywhere in between. Almost all of them have received violent threats, personal remarks and criticism of their work. So, unless you can fundamentally say that there are flaws in a writer’s work, be it their grammar, their facts or their references, maybe reconsider the pithy remark you have ready to fire off in the comments about why their article is ‘bad’.

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I'm a Philosophy and Politics student. I write for The Edge and my own blog where I talk about music, film and theatre. News and Investigations Editor for Wessex Scene. An amateur performer and wine enthusiast.

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