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Writing for people who don’t want to read

Logan’s Run-style euthanasia of ageing columnists probably isn’t an option. 

The editors of N+1 Magazine describe “The New Reading Environment”, where writers and readers are often sworn enemies.

Readers lose patience, and the careful quoting, like snipping coupons with precision, becomes tearing — into lines, phrases, and points. The space grows for misinterpretation, co-optation, and misunderstanding. All it takes is one podcast host with a grudge and a modest following, like an Evangelical pastor of yore, for a small hell to break loose in your mentions. Your authorial control disintegrates. What you wrote is eclipsed by another person’s idea of what you wrote. It’s the reader’s text now — and so are you, an authorial construction, another text to be bandied about. Does anyone enjoy watching themselves get eaten and digested by other people?

It’s very good on the resurgence of the op-ed as “an endless stream of annoying and offensive provocations” by controversialists of limited ability, and its origins in editors’ inability – or unwillingness – to differentiate between the “good” readers and the “bad”. All traffic is good traffic.

FROM THE PERSPECTIVE of the op-ed editors, “good” readers who see through editorial bad faith and express their outrage have become indistinguishable from “bad” readers who don’t, since outrage is a sign of consequence, and both guarantee traffic.

…When questioned about their motives, the editors responsible for all this irresponsible writing rarely answer. They say only that they are acting in good faith: furthering the dialogue, expanding the conversation, exposing their readers to new ideas, inviting everyone to the table.

I’m amused by the ideal of “term limits for columnists”, although personally I’d go for the Logan’s Run approach of compulsory euthanasia for the you-couldn’t-make-it-up crowd. Sadly I don’t run the world so it’s likely that they’ll follow what N+1 describes as “compet[ing] for the attention of aging Americans with the dementia-inducing Fox News.” And sadly, I think the article’s conclusion is correct:

But this is inadequate. Everything about the recent past, and the generalization of the op-ed form across the internet, suggests there is an inexhaustible fund of such figures, a reserve army of op-ed labor waiting in the wings. Twitter has helped turn the internet into an engine for producing op-eds, for turning writers into op-ed writers, and for turning readers into people on the hunt for an op-ed. The system will not be satisfied until it has made op-ed writers of us all.