How to Tackle Controversial Topics in Blogging

This is a guest post by Jennifer Brown Banks, veteran freelance writer and blogger at Blogging Pro.

A few months ago, I was contacted by a client of mine who was in a pickle.

As a goal for her blog which addresses how Blacks are portrayed by the media, and other issues relevant to the African-American community, she wanted to tackle some more controversial topics. Although she was passionate about her themes, and felt morally compelled to initiate important dialogue, she was afraid that in the process, she might “offend someone.” What should she do?

It happens to the best of us. Particularly those of us who are passionate writers. Sometimes we are called to forsake popularity for principle. Sometimes we must court controversy to expose truths, or provoke thought.

This conundrum doesn’t just apply to writers, but almost all creative artists that are in the public eye, or have a platform or following.

Exercising 1st Amendment Rights

Many opt to exercise their 1st amendment rights and speak their own “personal truths.” For better or for worse.

Take for instance, Spike Lee, whose film-making often unapologetically addresses social ills like racism, elitism, stereotypes and the status quo. Though he has garnered his share of criticism in the process, he is relentless in bringing enlightenment to the masses and initiating dialogue and debate to bring about important social reform. In his career he’s been awarded many honors and accolades by industry peers, and continues to serve as a role model for future generations. Not a bad trade-off most would agree.

And who can forget the faux pas of the Dixie Chicks, some years ago when their public comment (and disapproval) about the president caused their “wings to be clipped” and almost caused irreparable damage to their careers.

As I see it, great artists are called to make a difference. And if your work has caused someone to challenge conventional thinking, or open their hearts to new causes like animal rights, or natural disaster plights, or immigration, or have a paradigm shift, take a bow.

You’re in good company.

Heck, even Hope Clark, the popular editor of Funds for Writers, sometimes shares how her editorials inspire critics and negative comments. It comes with the territory

The bottom line? It’s a personal call. To quote a popular saying, “Let your conscience be your guide.” But, if you should choose to take the road less traveled.

Tips to Tackling Controversy

Here are a few tips to consider when tackling controversial topics in your blogging.

1. Never use a public platform for a personal issue.

In other words, examine your motives. If your situation is common, and it affects other folks who may not have a platform, and your objective is to cause a positive change, go for it. But don’t spew a lot of mean, belittling comments about a person or organization just to get even. It comes across as unprofessional and vindictive.

2. When possible, remember the effectiveness of a little humor.

Humor is to writing what honey is to medicine. It makes it more palatable.

3. Never “publish” when you’re in the throes of anger.

In other words, write it then sleep on it. If after 24 hours, you still feel the same intensity and sense of purpose, it might be worth pursuing.

4. Choose your battles wisely.

Don’t be perceived as a chronic complainer or one who likes to ‘stir the pot” just for attention. Save your energy and creativity for issues that can’t afford to be ignored.

5. Keep your head up and keep going!

Recognize that no matter how carefully you choose your words, you run the risk of being misunderstood or maligned.

By following these five tips you’ll be able to cushion the inevitable fall of sometimes going out on the limb in your role as writer.

Your Thoughts

Have you ever written something that you considered controversial? What were the results of tackling that topic, and were they what you were expected?


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Comments

  1. says

    These are great tips for dealing with controversial topics. One thing to always remember is who your audience is.
    There are lots of blogs that are controversial, and even downright inflammatory, but for some, that is the appeal.
    If you are trying to reach a wider audience, being sensitive to your readers will get you far.
    Alphabetix just posted SACC Brown Bag About Blogging

  2. says

    Jennifer, I agree with everything you say here.

    I’d also add that we should choose our words and syntax very carefully so we minimize the chance that we’ll be misunderstood. And for potentially inflammatory phrases and statements, we should write explanation so that are meaning is clear.
    John Soares just posted Declining Traffic: Why It Happened

  3. says

    Or, just be yourself, talk like yourself and do what you want without caring what others think or feel. To me, that makes one genuine and real. Of course, if you’re a business, this doesn’t apply.

    I disagree with John however. Having to qualify everything you feel might be controversial ruins the reading experience (if not done properly perhaps) and could take away from the intent of the writing.
    Wayne John just posted Perez Hilton creates waves with racy Miley Cyrus pic

    • says

      Wayne,

      You have an interesting perspective on this. It certainly can take something away from a reader’s experience sometimes if “everything” is explained. But there are times when it’s best not to leave things up to a reader’s interpretation. That can get a bit hairy.:-) Thanks for your comments!

  4. says

    The latest post on my blog is a controversial one and I think I didn’t disrespect any of my readers/commentators on that post. This post also helped me to learn how to better handle those types of posts. So, I believe these are going to work for me in all future controversial posts I write across my blogs. :)

    Thanks, Jennifer.
    Aminul Islam Sajib just posted Is Banning Facebook the right decision?

  5. says

    It’s not always that how-to’s actually teach you something, so this was great.
    As an African feminist blogger, I feel it’s important not to alienate the very people I would like to read me and contribute and debate by writing controversial posts in a forceful manner.
    I often tackle this by mixing some humour into the pot, and it was reassuring to see that as one of your suggestions.

  6. says

    I’d like to add: “Don’t post controversy for controversy’s sake.” Some bloggers know that buy posting certain topics they’re in

  7. says

    I’d like to add: “Don’t post controversy for controversy’s sake.” Some bloggers know that buy posting certain topics they’re inviting negativity and the “train wreck crowd” who thrive on drama. They do so to amp up their traffic and inflate their comments. Something I learned the hard way is that most members of a blog’s community aren’t into the negativity and the controversy. They’re all for discussion but when bloggers continue to introduce the same controversial topic in order to create a little drama, folks get turned off.

    (Sorry for the duplicate – hit “submit” a little too early.
    Deb Ng just posted Does Blog Posting Frequency Matter?

  8. says

    Hi Jennifer,
    I’m no stranger to controversial topics, having written a blog “In Your Face” in 2006. There are subtle ways to get your point across without being considered antigonistic, even when writing from a place of “truth”
    Clara.
    P.S. You offer up a great analogy about the honey & medicine, but as a vet in the medical arena,I think your readers ought to note that it’s actually applesauce that makes the medicine easier to swallow:)
    clara just posted Do Writers REALLY Take A Non-Working Vacation?

  9. says

    I totally agree with #3. Never ever do it when you’re angry because if you do, it will just create more problems/ issues. Write when you have already calmed down to ease things up a bit and to be able to face it more responsibly, maturely and diplomatically. As the saying goes, “Don’t strike while the iron is hot.”
    Andrew just posted This Is Passion

  10. says

    Creating controversy can be a great thing because it allows us to be direct and speak our own minds but it should never be used to simply degrade or entice others into anger.

    It is important to present a new viewpoint even if it’s taboo. Many of the bloggers and artists I remember most are ones that pushed the limits but in the end, their arguments were valid and I kept an open mind.
    Murlu just posted Finding Blog Post Ideas In The Most Unlikely Places

  11. says

    Those are some very good pointers. It’s a very tricky rope to walk when one’s talking about controversial issues. It’s hard to put your thoughts perfectly to paper in such a way that it serves more useful purpose and offends as few people as possible. Sadly, many are too outlandish like the Dixie Chicks and it hurts them. If you’re a star personality, it’s better to maintain a low profile and only mention your opinions if asked for something important.

    Till then,

    Jean

  12. says

    Jean,

    I appreciate your input. And even though I won’t say whether or not I agree with the Dixie Chicks, I will defend their right to express their views. That’s what this “land of the free and brave,” and 1st amendment rights was supposed to be predicated upon. Wouldn’t you agree?

    Controversy, it should also be said, can sometimes be subjective, depending on who is evaluating it. For instance, some see rap lyrics as “controversial”. Immigration issues are considered “controversial”. And at one time even “women’s rights” were controversial.
    Jennifer Brown Banks just posted 25 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me…