Who comments on the commenters?

I rarely write opinion pieces. I’m not the sort of person who is generally considered opinion-worthy in a media sense, although I have plenty of opinions and I’m pretty free and easy with them among friends and social media.

I actually got to write something that amounted to an op-ed this week, and it gave me a new-found appreciation firstly for the courage of people who do write these things on a regular basis, and secondly, for those writers who manage to deliver their opinion in such a genteel fashion that you don’t realise you’ve been earbashed until long after your blood pressure has gone down to normal.

The column was, unsurprisingly, about death. More importantly, it was an opinion piece about other people’s opinion pieces about death. You can read the story here, but the gist of it is that two journalists – a husband and wife – each published separate opinion pieces about the very public tweeting and blogging by a US woman with metastatic and almost certainly terminal breast cancer. They weren’t particularly nice about her or about her choices, which has since triggered a huge public and media outcry over their comments and methods.

So as the resident Death Crone, I was given the opportunity to weigh in.

The point at which I realised I’m probably not cut out to be an opinion columnist was the point where I wrote the words, “That’s bullshit” about one of the points made in the columns I was opining about.

It’s fair to say that’s probably a career-limiting move, especially if said column was written by former editor of the New York Times. and published in the New York Times.

Thankfully, some base instinct for professional self-preservation kicked in and I deleted the line before sending it to my editor (who would almost certainly have removed it anyway because she’s good at her job).

It also occurred to me that being an opinion writer in the social media age is risky business. The two journalists at the heart of the issue are copping such a public flogging by social media that if I was in their shoes, I’d be:

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It’s one thing to have an opinion and indulge in a bit of beer-fuelled bug-eyed ranting among friends and family. It’s another thing to have an international platform from which to shout it, and a major media corporation holding the megaphone.

That takes courage, a healthy dose of ego and rock-solid conviction in your own beliefs. I’ve had each of these, at one time or another, but it’s rare for me to have all three in one place at the one time… and for that, I’m very grateful (and you should be too).

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