One thing they don’t tell you in journalism school is how upset some people can get about things you never see coming.
J-school professors also don’t prepare you for readers who seem to have no idea newspaper writers have feelings, too.
Maybe I am too sensitive. That’s what my daddy always told me. Yet even after developing pretty thick skin during about 35 years in the newspaper business, I am blindsided when I get calls from readers who are angry over something they perceive in articles – or columns – I wrote.
I have progressed: I don’t break into tears when somebody criticizes me harshly like I did during my early days as a reporter. I usually wait until
I politely get off the phone and then throw something across the office, like the soft, squishy balls I keep in the bottom drawer for that purpose.
But I’m still flattened when people are rude and harsh.
I understand they’re usually hurting when they make those angry calls. Frequently, I find they haven’t read the article and instead, “Somebody told me you said…” Usually I didn’t.
One thing I have learned, though, is we in the newspaper business are handy targets for people to blow up at. They have no problem in trying to kill the messenger.
There’s usually an underlying reason, and my article has struck a nerve or reminded them of something that upsets them.
For example, a mother who blistered me up one side and down the other not long ago finally admitted at the end of her conversation that she had convinced her daughter her friend who was killed during an argument had died instantly and did not suffer.
“And then you put it out there for everyone to see that he was still alive during the phone call to 911,” she said.
My message today is the same as it was when I started writing for newspapers while I was in high school: to write and print the truth, or, Jack Webb in the “Dragnet” television show used to say, “Just the facts, M’am, just the facts.”
I always emphasize to our summer interns, “There are people behind every headline.” You wouldn’t believe how we in community journalism – weekly newspapers – anguish over what to include in an article, and what we don’t write to keep from offending readers’ sensibilities and individuals’ feelings.
I value your reactions to our articles and photographs, the positive ones as well as the negative. I just ask you to stop for a moment before calling and blistering us for what we’ve written – or what you think we’ve said – and consider reporters have feelings, too.