Opinion Columnists: Why?

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As I would like this column to be timeless, I shall not mention what inspired it. So while skipping history, let me posit something: opinion columnists without some background and skill to have an opinion on are useless.

To write on opinions and viewpoints is fine, and useful. Having an opinion, understanding it’s an opinion, is a way yo ground what you say in context. Writing on it effectively is a gateway to help people understand your views and work with them or oppose them. To write an opinion also gives you the ability to look at your opinion – and change it or bolder it.

I’m fine with opinion columnists. I write enough.

But in time I’ve come to question professional opinion columnists, whose skill is . . . opinion columnist. Your opinions are based on your ability to have opinions and write about opinions. It creates a weird, inbred, thin-skinned world of people saying things with little grounding or reality. It comes close to being – and in some cases become – a grift.

A good opinion columnist is a person who has a grounding in something that’s relevant to more than having opinions and putting them on a page. Give me a scientist who has written peer-reviewed papers and done researches. Give me a writer who writes novels that can give opinions on the process. Give me a doctor whose done surgeries discussing the experience. Just don’t give me someone who’s only skill is writing about what they know.

In fact, maybe some columnists who are or were good at something should be watched warily to make sure that they don’t decline into being opinion-only.

A good opinion columnist is someone with a connection to the larger world. It may seem narrow or specialized, but we’re all a bit narrow and specialized, it gives us perspective and depth. Only those who are deluded think they know everything and can opine endlessly on it.

This is a good reminder for anyone that creates media. Being only good at creating media is going to limit you to recycling ideas, to regurgitating the past, and to shallow results. You need a gateway to connect you to the world to be able to connect your creations to the bigger picture.

You may expand your connections, but they will never be perfect. That’s fine. The ones you have ground your opinions so you can share them.

ADDENDUM: I find this relevant to many professions as well. My own profession, the ill-defined overlap of Scrum Master, Project Manager, and Program Manager, is one you need a connection to be good at. To just be good at Scrum or Project Management only goes so far – you need to be good at something else to ground it, like communications or business analysis or something. Anything general and abstract needs something to tie it to the world to be relevant.

Steven Savage