At UKrant: A columnist’s freedom
Every day, the editorial staff at the UKrant wonders: What are we writing about, why are we writing about it, and how are we writing about it? A look behind the scenes.
UKrant has four columnists who in rotation write about… anything they want to, really. We don’t want to limit them; all we do is ask (not demand) them to write a prosaic colum about the RUG in the broadest sense of the word.
Recently, UKrant received several dozen mails in response to Gerrit Breeuwsma’s column ‘All Inclusive’, about the RUG’s upcoming anniversary celebration. The people e-mailing us were angry about the column, saying it was disrespectful, sexist, and misogynist.
I won’t respond to the actual accusations here. I don’t need to defend Gerrit Breeuwsma either; he’s perfectly capable of doing that himself (see his latest column, ‘Boos’). What I would like to do is stand up for our columnists.
Columnists are expected to have authentic and contrary opinions. Their columns are allowed to tease and provoke. Columnists are allowed to lay it on thick, to exaggerate, to poke and prod, and make people think, all firmly with tongue in cheek.
Columnists are allowed to lay it on thick, to exaggerate, to poke and prod
Columnists can go where journalists can’t. An example: journalists have to limit themselves to reporting on the riots ‘on’ Urk, while columnists are allowed to call Urk a ‘small-minded, incestuous village’ when writing about those same riots.
We could argue about poor taste and how to be more subtle forever, but editors need to take their columnists seriously and as such respect particularly their freedom and the freedom to poke fun, even if that makes people feel uncomfortable sometimes.
There was another incident involving one of our columnists recently. Student columnist Alex Steenbreker overheard a conversation and used it for a recent column.
It’s not unusual that columnists are inspired by what they see and hear around them (as long as they use that information anonymously). In fact, it happens quite often. In this case, however, the person Alex overheard was none too pleased that her personal conversation ended up in a column.
For that reason, the column was taken offline several days after it had been published. The author herself requested. Fairly unusual, but even now, the editors supported their columnist. Even if it makes us feel uncomfortable.
Rob Siebelink, editor-in-chief UKrant