Staff column: Pathetic and free in the same line
A couple of weeks ago I got an email that told us here at the Sun Advocate that we were pathetic because we didn't have our web site for the paper up at "12 a.m." of the day the paper appeared. It was supposedly signed by a prominent citizen of our area, but I didn't even bother to call that person because I knew it wasn't from them. It didn't have a valid email address on it either, so I couldn't respond.
When I first became publisher and got messages like this one through email or letters that were unsigned criticizing something we did or didn't do or didn't do well in their opinion, I would get upset. More upsetting were the phone messages on my voice mail which had no name.
But no more. I have little time to listen to people who refuse to take responsibility for what they say or write. To be honest we get plenty of criticism from people who are willing to tell us who they are, and I accept that because they put their names to their complaints.
I am not sure why people won't sign things they send or leave names on messages they want to convey. Are they afraid that I will send out a newspaper goon squad to get them? Do they fear that we will publicly ridicule them in the paper or on our web site? Or do they think ananymonity gives them more power?
I am not saying sometimes the criticism we get this way is unfounded, but to be honest, it is very hard to take comments made under those situations to heart. And when one does not have a chance to explain why something is the way it is directly to the person complaining, it makes it hard to even clarify what they are sometimes complaining about. Anyone in business knows that complaints are usually symptoms of some gripe that exists beyond just that simple grumbling.
Last week I got an anonymous letter that was very nice (usually they are nasty or rude, sometimes obscene, speaking of pathetic). The person had included a copy of one of my editorials and pointed out a word I had spelled wrong. They also included a synopsis on paper about the structure of the word and the different ways it could be spelled and used. I had spelled it incorrectly, and our proofing crew didn't catch it. I know that happens. I am not going to make excuses for it, or any of the things we may goof up on; we strive to be as accurate and precise as we can be with facts and our writing in the time we have to produce it. We do fail at that sometimes and I apologize for that. However, that doesn't mean it will never happen again; it will. We will never be perfect, in fact probably far from it. But we will try to improve.
I sometimes wonder if these letters aren't from people I know and they are too embarrassed to complain directly. I can't tell, but I sure have a lot of people I know that don't mind complaining about the paper, what we put in it, how we write it, etc.
I guess its good therapy for someone to be able to find fault in others. It makes them feel better, superior in some way, shape or form. I have often thought of newspapers as kind of a comfort for some people; people who like a routine, who like to know what is going on in their world, who like the sameness of a newspaper with the differences it poses in each issue. If we can make people feel better, even by allowing them to hold themselves over us, so be it. We have done our jobs.
Oh, and concerning that email about our website. I find it interesting that the people who get things free are always the first to complain about how it was delivered to them or what kind of conditions they had to meet to get it. For that reader's information, our website (unless we have some kind of technical problem) doesn't come up until the actual newspapers are in our mail room being sorted to go out. That usually happens around 10 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I don't remember ever committing to having the paper on the site the minute we have sent it to the printer or by midnight the night before it comes out.
But I do have to ask the question to this person. Why, should you, the non-paying reader, get a jump on the people who actually buy the paper through a subscription or from the stands? That's because you have the very thing we need to eliminate in this country; an entitlement mentality.
And please note - I have signed my real name to this.