Term in Media Review: [My] Columns

The latest in a not particularly long evolution of columns.

The latest in a not particularly long evolution of columns.

Part 1 of a multi-part series, this time looking at the highlights of my own body of work.

Over the past year and a half, I have written a total of 15 columns for the McGill Tribune. Most of them have been alright, some have been good, and some have been decidedly mediocre.  But that goes for anyone who writes. I decided here that it would be useful to look back at the general evolution of my pieces, and, of course, the hits and misses.

My first column for the Tribune was a piece on the controversy on the constitutionality of Obamacare and why the Supreme Court should vote to uphold the law. It was an unremarkable column; perhaps the most memorable aspect of it was that the folks at the Tribune misspelled my name as “AbrahamMassouko”. The writing itself was competent though not top-notch, and the opinion expressed (Obamacare is a decent though flawed attempt at reform, and the bill works under the Commerce Clause as previously interpreted) is about as original as the selection of panelists on a  Sunday show roundtable.

Over the time I’ve been writing columns, I  have struggled with the question of whether to focus the space on happenings on campus, or things happening elsewhere, be they provincial, national, or international. Campus politics are often (contrary to the claims of some) unimportant, except for the very, very few times when they are important.  Of the columns I have done, a third—five—have centered on campus politics. Two of these pieces, “Safe Space Strife” and “Moral Superiority and Student Politics” were incredibly controversial, and I’ll address the controversies around them later. In general, I have found that my columns discussing campus politics were among my better pieces, especially in comparison to some I have done taking a well analyzed but not particularly strong stance on a non-campus issue.

The problem with all student journalism on the McGill campus, however, is its general irrelevance to the wider student body, and I include my own columns in this. This is why controversy, while certainly uncomfortable when semi-anonymous internet commenters are casting aspersions on your fitness for society, is also refreshing in that it is proof that people outside of the 30 or so friends that can be cajoled into reading your columns are actually reading your work.  “Strife” and “Superiority”, as just mentioned, were undoubtedly the most controversial columns I have written, with both prompting letters to the editor, a phenomenon that is fairly rare at the Tribune.

For those unfamiliar, “Safe Space Strife” was a bit of a departure from  my normal columns in that it involved actual reporting, in this case on rumors of an intra-executive dispute at Queer McGill. The piece discussed the removal of one of the executives at the organization on the grounds of an arguably dubious Equity Complaint. While it went on to become one of the most-read pieces on the Tribune’s site for several weeks—likely the result of  being referenced in a “McGill Memes” posting— it also prompted complaint from the dismissed executive; in his view I had misrepresented his side of the story. I also was contacted by my then-editor about complaints about the piece from unnamed sources. In the end, a small correction adjusting one of the facts ran in the next issue, and the dismissed executive wrote a letter to the editor further outlining his side of the story. While I think I did an alright job with that piece, it definitely was a missed opportunity in many respects.

On the other hand, “Moral Superiority and Student Politics” is, in my humble opinion, one of the best pieces I have written for the Tribune. The first of my columns this year, “Superiority” was  a commentary on one of the major elements of rhetoric implicit (and sometimes explicit) in much of the campus left, which is that involvement in campus politics is some sort of “obligation” in the fight for global social justice. As I discussed, that sort of rhetoric was laid on thick during the MUNACA and student strikes last year. One of the columnists I referenced (but did not name) as an example of such “sanctimoniousness” posted the article for condemnation on their facebook profile (the posting is public), and condemned it was, as “trash”,  a “piece of shit”, and other such invective. The article itself also generated a decent sized comment thread, a rarity on the Tribune website. Two letters to the editor were also sent to the paper the next week, the first of which actually made fair points about the piece. The second one could probably be described more as comic relief than anything, or proof positive of my original point.

So what’s next? In general, I would say that my columns have improved over the time I’ve been writing, but at a far slower pace after my pieces from late last year.  Next term should feature at least one or two on-campus controversies worth writing about, and I probably will try my hand at some other forms of journalistic writing. We’ll see.


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