January 31, 2015
Journalists have always faced difficult ethical questions about what to publish and how, and in light of the attack on Charlie Hebdo as a result of their editorial decisions, these conversations about presentation seem pressing. In the densely entangled layers of questions that involve religious tolerance, the freedom of the press and western hegemony, the role of offense consistently appears as a core dispute. Whether or not you are going to offend someone is an answered question – you probably will, but whether or not that offense should be enough to stop you from publishing or speaking requires more consideration. Writers should ask themselves first: what is accomplished through offense and second, is there another way to achieve the same end while minimizing the offense to others. This second route is called being “politically correct,” and while such correctness dangles somewhere between stifling and compassionate, there are definitely circumstances that require more attention to limiting offense more than others. The difference between Enquiry and The Duel Observer best highlights this circumstantial difference – the line between news and comedy.
As two news publications, Enquiry and The Spectator share several aims and limitations. Journalists attempt to disseminate information and provide analysis of that information. They precariously manage the marriage of letting your audience make their own decisions and telling their audiences what to think. Regardless of your focus or ideological position, though, the aim of journalism is providing information one way or another. Being offensive can be very out of place in this equation then.
In reporting news, information should just present itself as objectively as possible. It may not be pretty, but it is the news. On the other hand opinions definitely open the door for offense more –if the reader disagrees with the writer, then the two face a certain impasse. Writers can mitigate this confrontation though by articulating opinions with rational argumentation and thoughtful language. They can hopefully explain their position without inciting unwarranted backlash. These two concepts are the anchors of good opinion writing, and only when they are flagrantly ignored do news publications find themselves facing significant reproach.
In contrast The Duel Observer, and any other satirical publication, is spared from these concerns for offense and rationale because comedy is a very different beast. While newspapers must consistently aim to inform their audiences judiciously, comedians can do anything from thoroughly informing their audience to endlessly amusing them. Comedic theorists can debate the means and ends of comedy for a long time, but at the end of the day comedy can still afford to take its job lightly because there is not the same expectation of accuracy or reality. This is why The Spectator implores Enquiry, and any other journalistic publication on Hamilton’s campus, to articulate opinions with facts and tact. Having an opinion and inciting offense are not mutually inclusive, and the latter can sometimes be avoided. We understand that being politically correct can be maddening and draining, but our audiences should expect nuance and professionalism, not off-the-cuff jabs and heat of the moment calls to patriotism.