I used to dislike Owen Jones for a living… at least partially.
Jones, who would be called labelled “divisive” in tabloid speak or simply “controversial” in the equally over-heated argot of broadsheet papers, is a left-wing writer, commentator and activist who predominantly works for The Guardian.
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I’m more to the center than Jones, but used to be employed as Chief Tech Blogger for the centre-right Daily Telegraph (before I shipped out in rather acrimonious circumstances).
After interrogating my own prejudices about the man – who was, like me, born in 1984 (hence his Twitter handle) – I realized that it was less about the positions he takes than a tinge of jealousy about the megaphone he has at his disposal. The truth is, he worked hard to get there. I was just green like The Grinch:
Still, while my opinion of him softened over time – his passion and commitment to social justice are to be lauded, however much some of his policies don’t jive with me – it was when he started making YouTube videos that I began to actively like him.
There is something about YouTube that is very different to watching TV appearances with their harsh lighting, harsher questioning and contrived air of conflict. When Jones does those – as I have done – he’s on territory where interviewers are apt to push for the most hectoring, hysterical positions.
Newspaper columns and Twitter are also very limiting. A lot of information is left out when you are relying on text. You apply your own sense of tone to written text, giving warmth to the words of those you agree with and projecting irritation and scorn onto the arguments of those you don’t.
Jones’ YouTube videos have changed my view of him, because they allow him to come across as funnier, more nuanced and project his passion for the subjects he talks about more directly at the viewer.
And there’s another big difference. Unlike the often impenetrable divide between professional commentators above the line and readers ‘below the line’, YouTube – for all its outright crazy commmenters – can inspire a different sense of intimacy and encourage creators to respond to their viewers, both the positive and the negative ones.
In his weekly videos responding to questions and comments left under other clips, Jones tackles contrary opinions and sometimes outright nasty jibes with good humor and intelligence.
That’s the power of YouTube and online video – by opening up someone else’s world to you, it can entirely shift your perception of them. I’m not joining the Owen Jones fan club just yet – though a nice enamel badge could swing it – but I am a YouTube subscriber and look forward to his next dispatch. Even if it will infuriate me.
➤ Owen Jones [YouTube]
Image credits: Owen Jones/The Guardian