We used to think it was simple: writing an opinion piece meant stating a clear thesis and then typing out four or five concise paragraphs designed to convince the reader to side with you. After all, why publish your opinion at all if not in service of some greater end? The better the argument, the better the piece, right?
Well, yes and no. We still think the traditional opinion piece works best when persuasive: when rhetoric, logic, and facts are arranged in order to sway someone else. After all, political debates are not solved without arguments. But there are more forms of commentary than the six- to eight-hundred word single-issue dissection.
Our section recognizes – in fact affirms – the existence of bias and subjectivity everywhere in the world, and therefore is the natural home of personalized perspectives. Unlike an editorial, which is debated, written, and edited by the 19 editors of The Daily, Commentary, like the rest of the paper, is available for anyone in the McGill community.
Consider: Commentary – the word itself implies discussion and observation (think of a sports commentary or the director’s commentary on a DVD). The purpose of commentary is not just to persuade, but to illuminate. Whereas the value of an expert’s argument lies in the depth and breadth of their knowledge, the value of any person’s commentary lies in the unique perspective each person inherently has. Each of us views the world from a different vantage point, and this variety leads not just to a diversity of opinions, but a diversity of methods, styles, and experiences. Ought a survivor – of anything – be expected to argue in a step by step forumulaic style that their oppression was wrong because x, y, and z? Of course not! The value in their opinion comes from their very lived experience and rhetoric. It is more than possible that someone feels a poem or a passionate tirade of words is the best way to communicate what they have been through. Readers learn not just from argument, but by coming to understand the way another person sees the world, so all styles are welcome in Commentary’s pages.
Of course, we cannot print every piece we receive, nor would we want to, but we see ourselves more as curators than anything else. The most rewarding part of being an editor is taking the time to work through a piece with an author and doing the best to help them produce something they are really happy with. We won’t speak for people, or insist on printing only our own views, but we do want to garner as wide a range of experiences as possible.
Certain perspectives and arguments are more widely read and accepted than others. To that end, we recognize the truth that some voices speak not just louder than others, but are volunteered for publishing more often. Our role is to create a welcoming space for those who are shyer to offer their perspective, those who are marginalized and overlooked in mainstream media. Moreover, and ultimately this remains the most valuable feature of campus-community media, we are not profit-oriented: we can print what doesn’t sell because we think it needs to be read. So, we welcome authors who seek to challenge the status quo and established – and establishment – sacred cows. We want to provide a space for underprivileged and oppressed people to air their voices, in whatever style they wish. The Daily’s Statement of Principles accords with our vision for the section: our goal is to curate a section that is critical and open.
We still welcome those whose lives lived among books and learning enable them to write well-resourced and argumentative pieces about current political issues, but Commentary is also for social change, for mindless rants, for congratulations, and for rage. We welcome those who problematize, and who can show us what we didn’t see before. Remember, the Commentary section can only ever be a product of those who write for it: the more the merrier.
Jacqueline Brandon and Steve Eldon Kerr are this year’s Commentary editors. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.