op-ed: getting (politely) off the fence

As much as I appreciate a neutral review of an item/experience/etc, there’s something to be said for having an opinion and clearly stating it. It might be our Canadian politeness, or that the landscape of freelance writing (particularly in wine/food/travel) is so quickly changing, or a combination of both with a dash of something else. Whatever it is, we don’t say what we really mean.

Let’s look at that last sentence. Years ago I would have written “I don’t think we’re saying what we really mean.” As I’m the only contributor on my blog, the “I think” has less to do with ensuring you know it’s what I think and more to do with my hesitation as a writer. This qualifier isn’t what I’m referring to, as there’s an opinion stated regarding “saying what we really mean.”

There’s a lack of definitive opinion statements in experience writing – the wine/food/travel writing. We (the reader) generally expect to hear a personal opinion. It’s why I read such writing: I want to know what you think. Lately, I’m often disappointed.

The term op-ed comes from early newspaper days. Oxford Dictionaries defines op-ed as “a newspaper page opposite the editorial page, devoted to personal comment, feature articles, etc.”.  Wikipedia takes it further to explain that it “expresses the opinions of a named writer who is usually unaffiliated with the newspaper’s editorial board.” The part here that resonates with me is the personal comment / opinions bit. Increasingly, we’re missing that.

Freelance writers walk a tightrope of delivering compelling content and (hopefully) maintaining good relationships with their subjects. Vitriol-filled prose and mean-spirited writing aside, writers like to play nice. I do. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I don’t play the mean game. My mom taught me that, and she’d be very upset if I behaved in any other fashion. (love you, mom)

There’s a difference between providing an opinion and being a jerk-ass. If you read an opinion piece and get an icky feeling about it, there’s a good chance the writer is being the latter. Does that discount the negative experience? It does plant a few questions – particularly about the writer’s relationship with the subject. No one wants to get in the middle of a pissing contest – in the end, everyone smells bad.

I don’t review wine/food/travel locales, but I do write about my experiences. When I sit down to task, I ask myself one question: Why should anyone give a damn about what I’m writing? Yes, I want to encourage folks to ask questions rather than blindly consume or experience something. Really, though, writers want to persuade you to agree with our opinions. Or we should.

In a world of wishy-washy neutral prose and fear of pissing people off, I gravitate toward authors who push my buttons and get me thinking. I like to disagree with them as much as I like to shout “YES!” when alone in the yard, magazine on my lap. When it comes to wine, I’ll tell you what I like and what isn’t suited to my taste. Will I risk offending the producer? Maybe. However, the chances are good we’ve already had that conversation in person.

Meanwhile, I have a request for my fellow writers: please get off the fence and tell us what you really think. It’s why I’m reading.

~ Jeannette

(PS: feel free to tell me what you really think, too)

Winemaker Bradley Cooper sips my and my fella’s Bordeaux-style blend at Township7. We didn’t get the “dumb nose” feedback (see? clear opinion) others received, but neither did we win best blend.

 

0 thoughts on “op-ed: getting (politely) off the fence

  • October 9, 2013 at 3:01 pm
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    I see more hesitation in food/wine/travel writing, particularly online. It’s as if we’re afraid to give an opinion at risk of instantaneous backlash. But if it’s well-written, even something I disagree with I can respectfully engage with.

    I worry that sensational writing is taking over, with neutral prose replacing well-stated opinions – which seem to be on the endangered species list.

    Then there’s the glowing comped-media-trip that’s poorly disclosed or not disclosed at all. Don’t get me started on those.

  • October 9, 2013 at 12:55 pm
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    I guess I’ve assumed that a person who writes of food and wine is only going to write about the the experiences that have been good, stellar even. OR, pan a place/product based on their experience, and the reader takes their understanding of the writer’s established tastes into account as they read.

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