Feelpinions [speech]

17 Oct

There’s a suggestion from my friends on the negative side that feelpinions are inferior in quality to fact-based hard news and that feelpioneers have managed some MK Ultra level of mind control to keep getting published. As someone who is currently flange-deep writing about my sex life for the Guardian, Its hard to agree with them even though its hurts in my feefees.

First up, It’s important to note that the quality is wobbly everywhere: there is no doubt there are just as many bad feelpioneers as there are fact-based journalists. Everyone, however, hates Listicle-writers. And so they should. Absolute abomination (I lie. I went too far. I love them too.)

But there’s an unasked question here: if feelpinions are so bad, why are they so popular?

If feelpinions area so bad, why aren’t we turning towards these fact-based, hard news articles that are just waiting – apparently fully formed – for our education and enlightenment?

Are they really there? Are readers turning a blind eye to quality?

They’re not.

People don’t trust the news industries’ fact-based writing.

The Walkey Foundation along with Syd & NSW universities surveyed 100 editors and senior staff of major metropolitan and national newspapers who said 62% of newspaper journalism was “average” to “poor”.

Last year in June, Bernard Keane reported on Essential research polling and found only 52% of people trusted Australian newspapers. According to Keane, this makes “newspapers the most trusted form of commercial media.” At 52%.

There are good reasons for us to distrust fact-based media when we see how little facts matter:  phone hacking, bribery, actual churnalism (basically republishing media releases as articles), bias and deliberate political strategy. To cover these deficiencies we have two fact checking sites plus the Conversation, which seeks to give authoritative coverage by actual subject matter experts which apparently can’t be found in the media elsewhere.

So, we’re a bit wobbly on trusting the media when it comes to factual reporting.

The best thing about this argument is that it automatically implies there was once a golden age of reasoned and august debate. Oh, they were salad days. Days when all we cared about was the truth and sharing ideas equal……OH NO, THAT NEVER HAPPENED.

For every ejaculatory dialogue from Aaron Sorkin where people walk in corridors debating the ideology of A RETURN TO THE SIDE OF TRUTH GODDAMNIT, you have Peter Preston, former Guardian editor, stating “there was never a golden age of journalism in which journalists were not subject to pressure, crap compromises and not hitting the heights expected. Preston says such an assumption “is a dream and a confection. It is also chock-full of self-deception.” And that “One inescapable point about journalism is that, base or lofty, ruthless or idealistic, it is a mess, and always has been.”

Even then and speaking as a writer – when you do provide the facts – they’re not entirely convincing or thought-changing to readers as you would think.

Hello reporting on climate change.

If engagement is a reasonable indication (and for the purposes of someone madly typing this up 20 minutes ago, it is), fact-based articles dont resonate as much with readers. People will seek out a personal take on the news – one that no matter how subjective – one that places the news in a more understandable intimate context.

This is where feelpinions comes in.

Often this is because a narrative piece actually fires up a different part of the brain. It is often more engaging and memorable for the reader.

Also, due to a natural tendency to trust people over organisations, people will trust or seek out a feelpioneer’s view on current events. It’s not that they don’t care about the news, it is because sometimes people place interpretation of an event higher than a description of an actual event. And if it comes from a writer (not masthead) they trust and whose worldview echoes their own, they feel slightly more engaged and less alone.

One look at Andrew Bolt’s blog and there are the most contented people of all, united in their outrage,– the happiest of pigs, rolling in self-validating shit. To paraphrase Barbara Streisand, fuckheads who need fuckheads are the luckiest fuckheads in the world. But, they feel less alone – they are engaged with an opinion writer who reflects their world view at a time when they feel unable to trust the majority of media.

Why does opinion and personal writing matter to readers?  Because we’ve had 30 years of consciousness raising – where people shared their personal stories to make a larger point about and sense of social and political structures in order to feel more connected to others. Combine consciousness raising with Gonzo journalism on a one night stand and the resulting crack-baby up for adoption is feelpinion writing.

When I wrote about donating my eggs and the struggle of going through IVF for two strangers, I was inundated with emails from women relieved to see someone publicly say that how awful IVF is because  if you go through it, you’re supposed to shut the hell up and just be grateful. It was recognition of a private experience they were unable to share publicly.

When I wrote about my sexual abuse as part of a larger conversation around the topic of victim blaming, I was able to give a personal response that put the issue in easily understandable context and showed the impact in real terms. I also heard first hand from many people who changed their views based on what I wrote. The use of narrative, my personal story, helped further a conversation on an often taboo topic.

When I screamed and yelled about John Hirst’s contempt for teen and single mothers, I took him down with logic (and stats) but also my personal experience as a single mother. The response was one of gratitude, because people were hurt by his article and wanted someone to defend them. It wasn’t my intent – I just wanted to yell – but it helped others to know someone else saw and defended them.

I’m not Oprah – though I have once danced to “I’m every woman”. I’m just a hermit with wifi, trakky daks with a dodgy crotch and a need to talk to people about Japanese dating sims. But it would be disingenuous to deny feelpinions often involves using your personal story and thoughts for the benefit of others. It can comfort, it can consolidate and it can change opinion.

It’s not just the personal experience for me – the best conjunction of feeling plus opinion is when we use our personal experiences and join them to current event or larger themes. We can debate whether that’s a sign of egotism or vulnerability but it ties back into the whole notion of feelpinions the resulting botch of gonzo journalism and consciousness raising. Our lives become props and in the best of cases it works well and might give meaning to others

Now, these may not be huge things on a collective scale. And they may not impact the entire community. But are we really saying that media only exists to cover structural organisations? That there is no room in modern media to discuss the issues that shape people’s lives?

And while you wait for the next Glen Greenwald, I’ll be over here bringing down the media because this morning I wrote about Miley Cyrus’ “vulva on cold concrete near the low-slung animated turdslick of Terry Richardson”.

This was a prepared speech for the National Young Writers Festival’s Feelpinions Debate.

5 Responses to “Feelpinions [speech]”

  1. Adam Ford October 17, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    Spot on and funny. I know the conversation, but what are these fact-checking sites you mentioned?

    • Amy Gray October 17, 2013 at 11:45 am #

      Oh there was the Australian offshoot of Politifact and the ABC had its own division that took up airspace during the election campaign.

  2. jez heywood (@jezheywood) October 17, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    I come down on the negative side, to a degree: I can’t begin to describe how much loathing I have for the “feelpinions” portmanteau. It’s a weak, clunky attempt at hipster whimsy and it turns me off reading anything categorised as such.

    Why does everything have to have a “quirky” name these days? What’s wrong with “essay”?

    • Amy Gray October 17, 2013 at 11:44 am #

      Feelpinions was generally created as a derisive term to denigrate personal essays and its usage is either mocking or self-deprecating.

      • jez heywood (@jezheywood) October 17, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

        Oh, right.

        There’s a whole symphony of essays that could be written around the note you’re hitting in the “But are we really saying that media only exists to cover structural organisations? That there is no room in modern media to discuss the issues that shape people’s lives?” bit.

        I feel like a lot of people are blinkered like that in a lot of ways these days. Not just in their opinion towards writing.

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