Controversial McGill

“It depends on what your definition of  ‘controversial’ is.” – Queen Arsem-O’Malley, coordinating editor of the McGill Daily

As a responsible McGill student and a morally good human being, you try to read McGill’s various publications. That means Leacock’s, as well as theTribune, the Daily, the Bull & Bear and so on. After all, student journalism is the most effective way to keep abreast of current events and issues relevant to your school and community. Also, it’s a good way to procrastinate without feeling too guilty.

Over the past few months, a certain trend has been emerging. More and more articles espouse controversial views or use unnecessarily inflammatory tones. Related to this is an increase of traffic for those texts. You might have noticed more people talking about McGill publications in real life or online. Chances are you’ve been linked to an article through Facebook. If none of this sounds familiar, here are brief extracts from some of last year’s more popular entries:

All of the aforementioned articles are from the McGill Daily. The McGill Daily has always courted novelty and originality. Their Statement of Principles explicitly states their purpose of “examining issues and events most media ignore” and “giving a voice to individuals and communities marginalized.” Such an open policy means the Daily is more inclined to publish ideas inconsistent with the status quo. And that’s commendable, beneficial, and incredibly necessary  In the past, the Daily has championed equality. They supported Francophones in the ‘60s, promoted feminism in the ‘70s, and endorsed LGBT rights in the ‘80s.
Today, the Daily bravely fights against the Engineering Frosh, “the leader in the race to a new moral depravity, a culture of violence, sexual subjugation, and objectification.”
Even as I am about to write this criticism, I have a small fear that the articles are actually brilliant satire, and that I am secretly an idiot. How can such poorly-conceived and poorly-argued ideas be given such a large platform? How can someone not realize that when writing an article on a topic they find offensive, they can’t get sidelined by every other pseudo related offensive thing they think up on the way? How can we still be so angry about James McGill?
The problem here is twofold: the articles are offensive, and perhaps more importantly, they are stupid. These columns have no redeeming features. They often fail to offer valid ideas, or are so poorly executed as to obstruct their own points. Yet they are easily the articles with the highest traffic and discussion. The correlation between controversy and attention is well-known. Controversy is exciting and entertaining. The problem comes when the controversy is artificially manufactured and absurd. Contentious ideas are only valid if they have some form of justification. If the article has a baseless premise, justification and conclusion, then it is not worth discourse. Such articles are not written to persuade or convince. They are written to offend and rile.
The Daily likes to tout itself as McGill’s journalism program, but what they are preaching is the lowest and most base form of journalism: tabloidism. The Daily employs styles and strategies that are remarkably similar to tabloids or gossip mags (the McGill Daily Mail!). All the major characteristics are there: an eye-grabbing title, an outlandish opinion with an obvious dearth of sources or facts, and an aggressive and provocative tone. It is not impossible to have a well-written article that is controversial and generates discourse. It’s just much easier and more enticing to have a poorly-written one.
In November, The Bull & Bear published an article entitled “Turmoil in Venus”. The article had a strongly misogynistic undercurrent—at one point referring to certain women as “fat cows”. Unsurprisingly, traffic was massive as the article neared one thousand likes on Facebook. It was the most popular Bull & Bear article in recent history.
“Turmoil in Venus” has since been retracted and replaced with a public apology. “It came down to the fact that it went against our editorial guidelines,” explains Dan Novick, executive editor of the Bull & Bear. “It shouldn’t have been published in the first place.” Like so many Daily articles, “Turmoil in Venus” was offensive and poorly written. The only difference is that the Bull & Bear maintain their integrity, and seek to correct their mistakes.
“We have to think about who our readers are,” says Novick. “If our readers are in large numbers telling us the article is offensive and hurtful and should be taken down, that’s something we should pay attention to. We should respect them.”
The Daily does not respect its readers. How can they? The comments section for their incendiary articles are near-universally negative.  The Daily exploits their readers, provoking them with contentious and belligerent ideas. “In terms of the Daily, they are sensationalist and they are crafted to attract attention. And they do attract attention—they are the most read publication on campus,” says Novick. The Bull & Bear, the Tribune, and even Leacock’s could just as easily manufacture controversy. But we don’t.

“In terms of the Daily, they are sensationalist and they are crafted to attract attention.” — Dan Novick, executive editor of the Bull & Bear

In an interview with Leacock’s, Queen Arsem-O’Malley, coordinating editor of the McGill Daily, defends her publication and all the content it has published. “It depends on what your definition of controversial is,” Arsem-O’Malley argues. “Most of what we do tries to generate some sort of discourse.”
It should be noted that the vast majority of the Daily’s polemic is under its “Commentary” section, which is written by authors with no formal affiliation to the Daily. By doing this, the Daily allows itself to publish rant-y, inflammatory viewpoints from some level of distance. After all, the Daily does not necessarily endorse such views. They are merely publishing them to “generate some sort of discourse.” But such opinions are often poison to the very conversation the Daily lauds itself for trying to foster.
“They present a valid viewpoint that we thought was important,” says Arsem-O’Malley. “So yes, I do stand behind our decision to publish.” But that is precisely the problem. A viewpoint cannot be valid if the justification is flimsy, and an article cannot be effective if everyone who reads it does so to a chorus of their own gagging noises. The Daily would pretend that everything is a legitimate view that should be included in a conversation. In an attempt to be progressive and open-minded, the Daily publishes any view that even remotely challenges the status quo—no matter how ridiculous or ill-constructed.
Has the entire section become a cruel joke on the readers? Yes. The McGill Daily has become a caricature of itself.  The worst part is the Daily does have good articles, and even some of its poster-child hysterical diatribes make a few good points. The aforementioned controversy makes a small section of an otherwise excellent publication. However, because such controversy does exist, and attracts such attention, the legitimate sections of the Daily are ignored. By disseminating such toxic articles, the Daily soils its own name and courts ridicule for the very under-exposed and important topics it often publishes commentary on.
Readers are now actively making fun of the Daily, and dismissing it as an ultra-politically correct and radical institution. More than one website exists solely to mock the Daily’s ridiculous claims and arguments. There exists a drinking game based on the number of times the Daily refers to any of what have become their usual batch of tropes and terms.
This generation’s Daily is not the same Daily of the past. By allowing such poorly-cobbled, sensationalist and alarmist rhetoric to be published, they discredit themselves and their history. The Daily cannot be to continue their descent into a tabloid and a joke. Now is the time to voice complaints. Let the Daily know that such offensive articles cannot continue to be published. Encourage them to aspire to be the McGill Daily of the past. Ignore the rabble-rousing columns and instead, share the thoughtful and well-written articles.

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