Up Front by Emma Hart


The Up Front Guides: How to Be an Opinion Columnist

Okay, let's say your semi-lucrative career in politics or the media has drawn to a close. You decided it was time to walk away. Well, someone decided it was time for you to walk away. Here's the good news: your twatcockery is still an asset. You can become an opinion columnist. Newspapers are always looking for cheap content and recognisable names, and you get a small stipend and, far more importantly, you keep your name on the lips of the populace. No matter how many expletives are involved.

In fact, if you follow these few tips, you don't even have to already be famous. You'll still get to have people swearing at you – even if they can't remember your name.

The first thing to remember is that you are an opinion columnist. Having an opinion is a basic requirement for the job. The more opinionated you are, the better. Given you'll have to produce a column a week, it would help if you could instantly have opinions on things you've actually never heard of. You may think you have more than enough opinions as it is, but even the most misanthropic old bastard is going to run out of lawns to keep kids off eventually. If you do start running short on ideas, try applying what I like to call Micael's Law. Find out what someone else has said that's got people really offended, and then write about that, but try to be even stupider than the guy who had the idea in the first place.

The second thing to remember is that you are an opinion columnist. This is not to be confused with journalism. Your columns are supposed to be full of opinion, and completely devoid of fact. If you should ever have to incorporate factual matters into your columns, however tangentially, it appears to be de rigueur to get them wrong.

Just make shit up: that's your job. If it's inconvenient to your purposes for an accident to have happened at dusk in the rain, change it. If the law on vehicle hazards doesn't say what you need it to, change it. It's not your job to present facts, and it's frankly just confusing to your readership if you do. If the effects of prostitution decriminalisation don't suit your thesis, just lie. After a while, you won't even notice you're doing it. You don't even, apparently have hedge by saying "I think the Green Party support gay marriage because they want to reduce our population." Just say they do. Who the hell cares, anyway?

On that note, I wouldn't get too hung up on correct spelling or grammar or sophistimicated sentence structure. It doesn't appear that editors even read this stuff. They certainly don't fact-check it. After all, what generates more debate and controversy than something that's simply completely wrong?

Now, it can be a pretty rough-and-tumble dog-eviscerate-dog world, the columning game. The important thing to remember is that you're the only person who's real. If you're making generalisations about groups – women, gays, cyclists, prostitutes – they're certainly not people. They're groups. Collective nouns don't have feelings.

And if you're talking about the tragedies of individuals, they aren't real people either. They're happenings. They couldn't possibly read what you write. They're just names, in the news. They exist to provide fodder for your prejudices. Which is just as well, because there's really no way you could do your job if you constantly had to think about the effects of your robustly-expressed opinions on the people you're opining about.

You're still real, of course. So if people make comments that hurt your feelings, it is perfectly fine to get all publicly offended by them. It's not like you actually called anyone a bad parent, or a slut, or a traffic hazard who deserved to die. It's completely unfair and unjustified for anyone to get personal at you. After all, you're entitled to a platform for your opinion, right?

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

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