Friday, January 30, 2009

Perspective

First of all, a disclaimer. I'm putting up these two links not to invite debate on the actual issue of a local minister who said something that got him into hot water. I'm putting up these two links as a useful reminder to myself and to all people who like to comment on public issues.

So yes, a local cabinet minister said something last weekend and got himself in a bit of hot water. Here is what Nunatsiaq News had to say about it. Here is what a Barbara Kay, a columnist with the National Post, had to say about the issue.

Go ahead and read both.

Finished?

And so, what is the lesson we've learned in reading these two very different op-ed pieces?

Well, first of all, it's pretty apparent I could get a job as a columnist with the National Post if I wanted to, since intelligence in writing isn't much of a prerequisite. But I've pretty much always known that and a writer has to have standards.

No, as always, the lesson learned is that it really, really helps to be on the ground when you're commenting on these things. Jim speaks with intelligence and the knowledge gained from living up here for years and years. He adds some depth and nuance to an issue that is more complicated than it first appears. Barbara speaks with the voice of somebody who read a CP wire story and a press release.

Unfortunately, one is going to be read by a lot more people than the other. Then again, perhaps not. What is the Post's circulation these days? I mean, actual paid circulation, not all the papers they give away.

The lesson learned is one I have to remind myself of every time I want to plunge into Newfoundland political waters. The simple fact is, no matter if I read The Telegram, CBC, the Muse, the Scope, several community weeklies and read a half dozen pretty intelligent blogs commenting on Newfoundland matters, nothing replaces actually being there. I simply have a better grasp on the issues reading the paper at Hava Java then I do on my laptop in Nunavut.

I think I'm a good enough writer, and have enough connections, that if I really wanted to I could be writing op-eds for Newfoundland media. But that distance gives a very different perspective and I have to be careful. Prtending like I'm writing on the ground and in the know would make me just another hack screaming into the void.

Granted, that's apparently not stop the Barbara Kay's of the world, but anyway...

It's just that I have been ranting at Premier Williams a lot lately. And I think, from this distance, he deserves a good measure of it. Distance can be as good as being on the ground in some cases. It can give you a clarity of view that being right in the middle of it can't. But it's a fine edge between clarity of distance and ranting and raving about stuff you obviously know little about because you're missing all the little, important details.

Kay did that with her little column. And maybe I wouldn't have noticed or paid as much attention if Nunatsiaq hadn't produced such a compelling op-ed piece. It served as a nice wake-up and reminder; when you're commenting on these things, it helps if you know what you're talking about. It helps if you've done the research. It helps if you don't fly off the handle with the first drop of information when you don't have any perspective.

So thanks Barbara and Jim. Different lessons from both of you, but both appreciated and received.

Last Five
1. Good grief - Foo Fighters
2. What I did for love - Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies
3. Education - Modest Mouse
4. Did she mention my name? - Gordon Lightfoot
5. No sissies - Hawksley Workman*

7 comments:

jen said...

Holy crap that was a little freaky. Does that happen a lot in journalism, where a reporter just gets a tid bit of information and goes on a rant?

Did Barbra not read all this guy had to say about cutting out social workers & police ect? I have no argument that woman do cause problems too, but it was mostly the rest of what he said that I had an issue with. Maybe that's also what Aariak had an issue with. Maybe Barbra should read the rest of what Tapardchuk said.

I want to comment on Barbra's piece, "often it's the person NOT rocking the nasty bruise that gets charged, whoever that might be. Police and Social workers do not see sex, they see bruises."

This was very informative with the two perspectives!

Dups said...

aieee, this happens a lot in Journalism, there is no way you can learn about the Palestinian/Gaza/Sri Lanka/Tamil problems in 3.5 mins of a news report, or learn about the world with George Strombo-mylastnameisjustaslong-poulis in one hour.

I love the op-ed piece from the NU newspaper I think it's balanced and taught me more in a few mins than anything I've read about modern Inuit life lately. Even then, I do not believe I could comment on it without further research, it is still _one_ person's take on something.

Most columnists pick up on a small part of full story, even when reviewing something as trivial perhaps as a movie or book. Ultimately the only answer is to read widely and do research and none of us have time to do that. I certainly wish I did.

Look people are making the same judgments on the economy or the problems in the middle east - quick based on just a bit of information (heck _I_ do it). Unfortunately we all get caught up in it.

Great job Craig in highlighting such a clear case. I just wish it would go to all the other issues in this world :)

I have hope.

Jackie S. Quire said...

Interesting differences in style too, eh?

Kay's is almost reverse-pretentious. *As a woman* she supports Taparkjuk using flowery language.

And assumes Ariak was wrong.

Hmm. Interesting.

Jackie S. Quire said...

Also: There's a difference between acknowledging that spousal abuse can come from either spouse...

And the *rest* of what he wrote.

Seems to me people (Kay, commenters on the story) have latched on to that one little detail, and dismissed the "rest of the story"

Megan said...

I would like to say a lot, but I shouldn't. I am glad you wrote about this.

Instead, I will simply say that I really, really enjoyed Jim's editorial. I thought it was a lovely opinion piece about a very difficult, complicated issue.

SRD said...

the same principle is true in my line of work craig -- within reason -- i need to spend time in the country, ideally do 'deep' ethnographic work, read the papers (and the comics and personals) etc to be able to 'do' African Politics. But at the same time, I think it helps NOT to be writing about your home or about things that matter too much -- why i am frequently glad I don't 'do' newfoundland politics instead. still amazing that people get taken seriously even when they've never been to the places they write about (samuel huntington?); then of course some people write rubbish about places they (ought to) know welll............

Geoff Meeker said...

For the record Craig, your criticism of Premier Williams is spot-on. You may be observing from the other side of a geographical abyss, but your opinions have better insight than many of the commentators who are here, on the ground.