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Tribune Columns

(for my final column, I decide to discuss  topic that concerns me deeply: trains.)

“Inter-city rail in North America is often far below the standards of other developed nations. In many parts of the continent, notably those outside of the Eastern Seaboard and select other hubs, rail service simply isn’t a competitive alternative to driving or flying. The Montreal-New York corridor, spanning two major metropolitan areas across a distance of 381 miles, is an excellent case study of the current issues with rail services across North America, and brings to light some potential solutions. Evidence of the problems is not hard to find—the train currently takes almost 11 hours (when on schedule), substantially longer than taking the bus or driving.”

Read the rest here: http://mcgilltribune.com/useful-at-a-better-speed/

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(In which I discuss how social media has shaped our view of public opinion)

“With the rise of social networking as a viable medium for debate, political messaging has changed the way we view public opinion. Companies, for example, have strategies for increasing “engagement” and “brand awareness” on social networks, and media organizations often troll Facebook and Twitter for everything from sources to story reaction. Lost in all of this is a realistic evaluation of exactly who is online, commenting and tweeting their reactions to the news.”

Read more here: http://mcgilltribune.com/understanding-the-role-of-social-media/

(in which I discuss how a university administration should relate to students)

“McGill University, like all universities, has an administrative superstructure and an academic structure overlaid one on the other. As with many universities, this superstructure is generally ignored by much of the student body. The spate of recent controversies over the administration and student input, from the recent course cuts to the Provisional Protocol regarding Demonstrations makes this a good time as ever to talk about how our university should be run.”

Read more at: http://mcgilltribune.com/university-governance-students-and-stakeholders/

(In which I look at a set of twin cuts; one to the provincial education budget, and one to McGill’s class catalog)

“At the beginning of last term, I wrote that this year would—hopefully—be free of the sort of acrimonious student politics that characterized 2011-2012 at McGill. Recent events have put the lie to that hope. While much of the attention on campus is currently centered around The Daily’s fee referendum, a more important set of controversies goes directly to what sort of education we will have as this university moves forward.”

You can read further here: http://mcgilltribune.com/cuts-and-an-inconsequential-conversation/

The piece triggered yet another angry letter to the paper from a campus columnist who does not need to be named in this forum. However, you can read what he had to say here: http://mcgilltribune.com/re-cuts-and-an-inconsequential-conversation-jan-29/

The further controversy the piece triggered led to an interview with TVMcGill, which you can see in the second portion of this video: http://www.tvmcgill.com/2013/03/29/tvm-reads-the-paper/

(In which I discuss why university divestment programs are a bad idea)

“A large part of the difference in the policy prescriptions that we see from the Left and Right can be attributed to the logic they apply to political and policy problems. In terms of social issues, we see that those on the Right tend to frame problems within an absolutist moral framework, and anything that falls short of this standard is vigorously opposed.

[…]

Ironically, when we shift to environmental issues, we can see the more absolute moral framework being applied by left-wing activists.”

Read more at: http://mcgilltribune.com/divest-what-the-flawed-thinking-behind-university-divestment/

(In which I discuss how social media enables the spread of false and faulty information)

“Over the past decade, the entire concept of social media has gone beyond the province of futurists and patent offices, to become a real and tangible part of our lives. Just as quickly, it has grown to be a trusted source of information for many. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Americans now get at least some of their news from social networking sites.

Some of this news is misleading, but the spread of bad information on social media is not limited to outright falsehood.”

Read more here: http://mcgilltribune.com/crowdsourced-canards-social-media-and-the-spread-of-falsehood/ 

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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