Belfast Telegraph

Agree or not... you'll find all views in our 'broad church'

By Paul Connolly

That the Belfast Telegraph is a 'broad church' is, and has always been, one of its core pillars. As a newspaper and an online news brand, I believe its strength lies in both the diversity and the quality of its audience.

More than any other newspaper, the Telegraph is typically read by a large cross-section of people, from the proverbial judge on the Malone Road, to the Rathcoole mechanic; the Downpatrick businessman and the nurse in Omagh.

This audience crosses class, community and gender and encompasses all shades of opinion. Happily, it also includes a high number of ' ABC1' readers much favoured by advertisers.

As an opinion leader, and a key way of reaching the most important audience in Northern Ireland, it is peerless.

Last week provided a nice opportunity to underline how broad our church is, and also how much this is cherished by the readership.

Comedienne and Telegraph columnist Nuala McKeever's decision to write about how she has found love with a woman in the shadow of the sudden death of her male partner provoked an outpouring of admiration.

Gone, thankfully, are the days when people are 'outed' as one stereotype or another. The tabloids get it now: the public will no longer stand for this type of behaviour unless there is some sort of compelling reason that satisfies a genuine public interest test.

Nuala revealed the development in her own Belfast Telegraph column, a brave decision to put a private matter into our rather robust public domain. Even though society has moved on from many of the old prejudices, the internet, in particular, still has its dark corners.

But in the sunlight, there has only been admiration, as John Orr wrote on our Write Back page: "Some time ago, I was so impressed by Nuala McKeever's column I wrote to suggest she stand for election to the House on the Hill.

"Nuala's recent decision to 'come out' has elicited epithets as 'trailblazer', 'role model' and 'beacon of diversity'. I would add one other: Nuala is heroic."

Some readers questioned whether the Belfast Telegraph should have covered the matter. "Is it actually news if a person is gay or whatever," one said to me.

There was no public interest, but the Northern Ireland public was undoubtedly interested in it. The whole matter will be a one-week media wonder. But I do look forward to the banter the next time Nuala's on stage ...

A different view on a separate social issue also drew praise from readers. Alf McCreary's column on same-sex marriage on Saturday's Churches Page also struck a chord with many readers.

Alf wrote that, in his view, the term marriage "should be reserved for a stable and lifelong relationship between a man and a woman".

He added: "One of the problems about same-sex marriage is that people who do not accept this concept are afraid of speaking out against it, because they do not wish to be thought homophobic.

"There is no point in ducking, or fudging, the issue ... people inside and outside the churches have every right to express their thoughtful and measured opposition to same-sex marriage, but without feeling in the least bit guilty about doing so."

Noirin, from Belfast, wrote in to say: "Alf McCreary has exactly reflected my sentiments on this whole issue of the misuse of the word 'marriage'. Well done, Alf."

Doubtless, the debate on both these issues will continue. There is no direct connection between them: I just happen to think it just serves rather neatly in the same week to underline the range of perspectives within these pages.

And that can only be a good thing.

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