Weak for the weeklies: Columnists and their fans

And expert on fandom writes about how the hated columnists have a lot of people who really love them.

Penny CS Andrews is a writer, broadcaster, and academic. They often write about political fandoms. Today, it’s media fandoms on their radar. See more at www.politicsfandom.com. Penny was paid for this piece. 

Do columnists have fans? Not just readers? Oh yes. Streams of people under the tweets and in the comments section of every article they write, claiming that they subscribe to Publication X solely for this writer (or this writer and named pals). When they start a pile-on, and they do, swarms of their followers and admirers descend on whichever poor soul has offended the columnist.

The columnists will tell their fans that what they are doing is merely a much-needed corrective to the abuse they receive from “the other side”. The weight of this abuse is difficult to measure, because when you are in the middle of a Twitterstorm for whatever reason then the relatively small number of death/rape threats weigh much more heavily than the larger number of mocking tweets or comments of disagreement but also get taken as characteristic of the whole and the numbers are wildly inflated. Hugo Rifkind’s 3000 tweets calling him a dickhead are more likely 30 calling him Rugo Hifkind and a few genuine nasties.

There is absolutely no analysis of the power involved. The bazillion followers and readers and the social and economic status of a columnist do not stop them dunking on a much smaller account or writing the same piece every week about how awful trans activists are.

They write self-justifying pieces claiming that the mob is silencing them and their friends, who apparently are less powerful while being cited by name and even writing their own pieces about how hard it is to be an anti-trans professor with full institutional support on more money than my house is worth.

Have they ever thought about the weight of that? When Janice gets her fans cooing over her latest screed, trans people are crying at home and if they complain then they’re hunted down by hundreds of sock puppet accounts until they lock their own account or leave the platform. When Marina makes a witty and verbose quip about the government, people who voted for or even work for them clap and chortle and those who live with the consequences of a Conservative government are meant to enjoy the “free speech”. Gosh, golly well I pay my subs for her genius, but it’s unthinkable for me to pay more tax or defend minorities because that’s just an imported culture war from the US that stops me enjoying my breakfast. Woff woff.

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To understand fandom, you need to know that it’s about more than liking or supporting something or someone. It’s about feeling part of something bigger, a community, and your identity. Defending this thing, attacking its opponents, seeing other people do the same, discussing that content on social media and forums dedicated to your shared interests – all these practices are key. Mumsnet’s “feminism” board is so dedicated to the anti-trans cause that they’ve become avid fans of Douglas Murray, Brendan O’Neill and James Kirkup for their constant content on this theme and ignore their politics (right-wing) or the venues of publication.

They’re completely uncritical much of the time because they have nailed their colours to the columnist fan mast. Oh, I must send Janice a postcard, she’s really pro-women (anti-trans people) you know. Julie wrote about the Trans Taliban and the wokebeards, can’t get enough, I like and subscribe.

And so the beleaguered columnists begging for new subscribers to support newspapers as our sector undergoes severe cuts will not suffer even as experts in investigative journalism, cultural criticism and long reads on under-explored topics lose not only their jobs but also their careers. There are no places for them to go and still get paid. Whereas the columnists can take that fanbase and continue to monetise it, write for ever-more partisan venues and bring in the merchandise support.

All while columnists claim to be silenced and that their free speech has been chilled. All while libelling less powerful journalists and trying to crush trans people and Muslims out of public life.

It’s a great grift if you can get it.