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Not really barking at the big dog anymore

Thom relaunches his column with a new more appropriate title

This week I am relaunching this column with a new title.

In 2005, when I first arrived in the Bulkley Valley as a reporter for The Interior News, the editor, Todd Hamilton, encouraged me to write an op-ed column. The goal was, he said, strongly- and fairly-held opinion, strongly stated. Identify an issue, make a well-founded argument, offer a solution. Something along those lines.

In those days, I was inclined to have strong opinions and to state them strongly. Barking at the Big Dog worked.

This time around, though, I am much less inclined to state strong opinions mostly because I rarely have them anymore.

I have written before at greater length, that the older I get and the more I learn, the less I feel like I know.

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Often, even when I feel like I do have a strong opinion on something, by the time I finish digging into it, I find my position has weakened or sometimes changed altogether.

In order to be a really good op-ed columnist, you can’t just pop off blindly. It takes a ton of research or inherent expertise to opine intelligently about a given subject. That is why the great ones are usually seasoned journalists later in their careers who have spent many years specializing in a specific area of reporting or experts who have come over from their respective fields.

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Obviously, this is impractical in community news, particularly now. Even when I was here the last time around, we had 22 people working in this office.

It can be problematic writing opinion about something you also have to report on. In an ideal world, a columnist would never comment on an issue he is also reporting on. Even if the story is fair, balanced, accurate and objective, even the appearance of bias can strain your credibility.

Finally, I used to have the lofty, and perhaps somewhat naive, notion that I wanted to, and was capable of, persuading and/or influencing people. That is probably true to a certain degree, but these days I find, even when I do have the inclination, it is more toward trying to influence people to be informed and use critical thinking skills to arrive at their own conclusion than to persuade them to adopt mine.

So, this time around, I have been much more inclined toward lighter subjects, personal anecdotes, exploring quirky facts or philosophical rambling.

Aside from a few complaints about not being hard-hitting enough, it appears to be working. The vast majority of feedback I get is positive.

At the time I first started at The Interior News, the editor at the Omineca Express (Vanderhoof) was Ryan Jenson, who would later work with me here and eventually did a stint as editor.

The Jenson family had a tradition at the time of picking names and exchanging gifts, which had to be handmade. Ryan ran a whole series of columns in the Express about learning to knit and knitting a scarf for his uncle. It was wildly popular.

These days, we have access to real-time access to analytics. By far and away my most popular columns are the ones in which I write about my dog Lady MacBeth (aka ‘the bug’) or my adventures in tiny living.

A whole bunch of clichés leap to mind: “give the people what they want” or “if you can’t beat them join them” or “you can’t argue with success.”

I’m not going to be doing anything different with the column than I have been, but the title simply doesn’t fit anymore.

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Thom Barker

About the Author: Thom Barker

After graduating with a geology degree from Carleton University and taking a detour through the high tech business, Thom started his journalism career as a fact-checker for a magazine in Ottawa in 2002.
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