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To have an opinion

To have an opinion, or not to have an opinion: A question that has governed my actions – or lack thereof – for quite some time.

More accurately, I’ve struggled with whether it’s important to voice an opinion.

Are our thoughts pulled out of us by others’ interest in what we have to say, or pushed onto unsuspecting listeners because we want them to hear what we have to say?

A field producer I once had put it best: “Opinions are like assholes: Everybody’s got one.”

It stuck with me.

In general, I’ve kept my opinions to myself. Mostly because I don’t feel like I really have any right to blab about things I don’t fully understand just because I have a constitutional right to blab. (I also like to think-out what I’m going to say before I actually say it.)

But today, I’ve decided to have an opinion. Or more accurately, I’ve decided to voice it.

I’ve spent the past several hours re-reading a column on columns by National Post’s Andrew Coyne.

I think he summed up the whole business of opinions nicely, stating bluntly that “nobody owes you the two minutes it takes to read your column.”

How true. And in an age of immediacy and choice and options, one could say that nobody really owes you two minutes for anything. Whether that’s called being autonomous or being careless, I’m not too sure.

Regardless, the second blow: “You do not do the reader a favour by writing something for him to read. He does you a favour by reading it.”

Also true: If you aren’t liked or read or respected or hated by some sort of sizeable audience, you’re losing. And not only that, but you’re losing to YouTube videos of pandas sneezing.

Enough said.

It’s a vicious cycle, whereby a columnist has to write to a specific audience to capture that audience. Eventually, hopefully having attracted a great enough number of readers, he can eventually transition to writing about what he wants.

The kicker, as pointed out by Coyne, is that if the audience stops liking what they read, nothing is preventing them from flipping the page. That opinion-writers’ readers have opinions about their columns is expected. But that they can altogether choose to tune out the other side of a topic is argumentatively unfair.

And that, I’ll argue, is the problem with media: That it’s so easy to tune out.

Of course this can be a good thing, because “media” includes advertising and OK! Magazine. But opinions and entertainment aside, the real problem is that good journalism is also optional.

A question: Is it not a problem that an article about alleged human rights abuses by Canadian mining companies in Africa can be ignored, because a reader simply doesn’t fancy being woken up by anything other than the morning coffee?

Whose fault is it that when “favours” are being handed out, important pieces of journalism can be overlooked? Is it the responsibility of the reader who actively chooses what to read, or the responsibility of the journalist to persuade people to care? Furthermore, what and who defines “important”?

That’s the irony, that we have a constitutional right to not practice our constitutional rights: That we can not only hold a particular view, but that we can decide to shut out all other arguments that may have had the potential to persuade us otherwise.

I suppose the problem is that this isn’t even a problem at all: It’s just a matter of opinion.

Coyne wrote also that “as a rule, most of us don’t like to be shouted at” and I have to agree, so I’ll stop shouting.

But in my “opinion,” people could stand to be shouted at a little more often if what’s being shouted merits being heard.

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