It’s amazing how things tend to balance themselves out.
Last week, I came into work to find a complimentary email from our sports stringer commending Herald reporter Michael Potestio and I on our coverage of his beat while he was away on vacation.
A few messages up in the queue, I saw an email from someone that ended in a way that completely deflated my good mood:
“I am sorry to say that the Merritt Herald is hardly worth the walk down the street to pick it up, and it is no wonder that people in this town are depressed. Thanks for nothing.”
In my line of work, I am very, very familiar with the theory that it takes people from all walks of life to keep this world a-spinnin’.
But it’s frustrating when you are doing the best job you can and you honestly stand behind your work because that commitment makes you much more vulnerable to the cruelty intended in comments like that.
It is fair if someone doesn’t like or doesn’t agree with what’s in the paper. It is fair if someone thinks that a particular topic deserves more coverage. But it is possible to express these sentiments without adding an insult and insinuating that the paper is somehow responsible for people’s mental health.
It’s one thing to be disappointed. It’s entirely another to be unnecessarily harsh about it.
Remember that there is a real live human reading your nasty email on the other end of cyberspace. How would you like to sit there and start your day by reading something so demeaning? What if I came down to your work to belittle you and tell you what a pathetic job you’re doing, and make all kinds of outlandish assumptions about the disastrous effects of your sub-par work?
Of course everyone thinks their story or their cause is the most important. Likely, to them, at that time, it is.
But we deal with a lot of information and are constantly on deadline. If that doesn’t sound stressful enough, throw in an unhealthy number of excessive egos and their demands that everything go their way.
It’s similar to what I like to call the “shame game,” which is played with reporters and editors everywhere, I’m sure.
It goes like this: someone is upset by the opinions or someone quoted in a news story, so that somebody directs their criticism where they mistakenly think it’s due — the editor of the newspaper.
“Shame on you for printing that,” they say in lieu of any constructive criticism.
Just because you don’t agree with it doesn’t make it wrong. I understand that is a tough pill to swallow when it comes to your most staunchly-held opinions or your experience with a particular topic.
But telling somebody “shame on you” for the opinion of another is misled and entirely unnecessary. It’s an attempt to school-marm your way around actual criticism, which is constructive, thought out, and most importantly, is open to a similarly constructive and thought out rebuttal — not spur-of-the-indignant-moment emailing.
Whatever the case may be, personalizing something that is impersonal only serves to irritate, condescend and offers nothing constructive.
Think before you type.