Wick Communications

Rethinking syndicated columns

In Uncategorized on 14 Feb 2013 at 2:34 pm

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Half Moon Bay Review staff writer Sara Hayden alerted me to the Asian-American Journalist Association’s condemnation of a column by Stanford professor Joel Brinkley. I mention it here for two reasons: It’s another example of a syndicated columnist writing about something that has vanishingly little to do with our localities, and also because some Wick papers regularly run Brinkley columns.

So here is the offending column. Personally, I found the logic so ludicrously tortured that “offensive” was a concept that I didn’t apply, but then I’m not Vietnamese.

Here’s an excerpt and I think it gets at the crux of his argument, such as it is:

… Vietnamese have been meat eaters through the ages, while their Southeast Asian neighbors to the west — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar — have largely left their wildlife alone.

In each of these other countries you see flocks of birds that are absent in Vietnam along with numerous pet dogs and cats. There, people eat rice, primarily, and for many people in most of those states their diet includes little more than that.

Vietnam has always been an aggressive country. It has fought 17 wars with China since winning independence more than 1,000 years ago and has invaded Cambodia numerous times, most recently in 1979. Meantime, the nations to its west have largely been passive in recent centuries.

… I would argue that because Vietnamese have regularly eaten meat through the ages, adding significant protein to their diet, that also helps explain the state’s aggressive tendencies — and the sharp contrast with its neighbors. …

As I said, only an excerpt, but you get the idea: Vietnamese eat all their animals and that helps explain why they are aggressive.

Look, I’m no anthropologist (by the way, Brinkley dismisses them), but that strikes me as a laughably simplistic supposition.

The question for us is this: Would you run a column like that? I hope not and only partly because of its dubious take on life in Vietnam. A better reason to pass is that it deals with Vietnam. Why run the risk of alienating a segment of your readership (not only Vietnamese but thinking people everywhere) on a riff on something half a world away? There just is no upside other than filling space and we need to not be in the business of merely filling space. We can do better than a Joel Brinkley column on meat-eaters in Southeast Asia.

This is why local columns are almost always better. Almost by definition, the subject matter is more important to more of your local readers. Plus, you can find people who actually know what they are talking about.

If you sometimes run Brinkley’s columns, I would put him on a very short leash going forward.



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