Friday, July 6, 2012

You can't please everyone

The one thing I know for sure after a lifelong career in the newspaper business is you can't please everyone.

Fact is, you're lucky to please anyone. Sometimes I think the newspaper reading public is a vast vat full of circling sharks, or maybe ravenous buck-toothed piranhas, waiting for the next columnist to dip her toe in the tank and give her a shiny new blood red toenail polish.

Everyone's a critic, see, and everyone has their own idea of what a newspaper should and should not contain; they are also not afraid to express their opinion, in the form of letters to the editor, usually penned in a self-righteous holier-than-thou tone.

That's a good thing, in many ways. If readers are claiming ownership to what belongs in a paper and what doesn't, it means they care about the publication. It means they're reading it. There are so many newspapers struggling in this modern age of internet news and television that many publications are going the way of the dinosaur. So the fact that anybody cares enough to criticize the content is good.

However, it does suck being on the receiving end of such letters. No matter how many you get, it still hurts. I received two such letters in the last week. One from the local drive-in complaining about a piece I did about racy movies, children and drive-ins and one from a former colleague at the paper taking me to task for a column about potato salad. (By the way, if you follow the links you'll see original unadorned posts. What appeared in the local newspaper was edited for profanity and MUCH tamer, especially in the case of the drive-in post.)

For the record, I LOVE the local drive-in and I've written many times about how wonderful it is. Nobody's a bigger fan than our family. We go several times every summer and spend a substantial amount of money at the concession stand because we truly believe in supporting this awesome business. When I went there last year to take pictures for an article that appeared in one of our summer magazines, the drive-in people were so happy they sent free passes. They weren't so happy this time, although I do believe any free publicity is good publicity. Like letters to the editor themselves, it means people care enough to talk about it. Any fading celebrity knows that not-talking is career-death.

The letter from a former colleague really hurt my feelings, though, I think mostly because he IS a former colleague and I would hope there would be some degree of professional courtesy among writers. This is what he said:
I was a humour writer for the Muskoka Sun for some 10 years, so it was with some surprise and shock as I read through the article by Cathy Oliffe-Webster "If it ain't Bojac, it ain't potato salad", Muskoka Sun June 29/12. 
I have read and usually enjoyed her humorous takes on life, in your Weekender publication. There is often a fine line between humour and distasteful tripe. I personally think she dug too deep into the humour barrel in this article with references of  'child trafficing, heroin use and whoring' not to mention 'skank and leather'. This is not the kind of journalism I associate with the Muskoka Sun. It might be better suited to the tabloids that that are rife with these kinds of references, but not something I wish to read while enjoying the beauty and serenity of Muskoka.
I realize that she was trying to be funny but I really think she and perhaps your editorial department missed the mark on this one.
Distasteful tripe? Erm, whatever.

As for the references to skank and leather, it was a JOKE and it was about my MOTHER who is the epitome of classiness and SHE thought it was hilarious so honestly that's all that matters. That, and the potato salad, which was delicious.

Also, I don't get paid for the articles in the paper. Not a dime. Volunteer labour rewarded only with snide remarks? Ha! Welcome to my world.

***

I've only got three more days to raise money for the Muskoka Novel Marathon coming up next weekend. If you could see your way through to a small donation I would appreciate it! Also, don't forget, all generous benefactors will have a chance to win one of three Life on the Muskoka River mugs! If you would like to help me out, click here. THANK YOU!!

(I guess I won't be getting a donation from either of those letter writers... sigh....)


***
P.S. My e-mail account was hacked overnight so if you get a message from me with no subject line or a weird link of any kind, DON'T CLICK ON IT. I have changed my password so hopefully the problem is fixed. In the meantime, my apologies to anyone who might have opened the messages. Stupid hackers. Really, get a life, boys. Go write a letter to the editor or something....


32 comments:

  1. Everyone's a critic! That's just one person's opinion. Maybe you should send him some potato salad?

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    1. Nah, I don't think appreciate it. And who wants to waste perfectly good potato salad?

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  2. Isn't it funny how people are so much more apt to complain than they are to praise? It takes about the same amount of time and effort, probably even less so, to write something complimentary than it does to write something negative. :)

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    1. You are SO RIGHT Madeline! And may I say how pretty you look in that dress?

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  3. I should go read that potato salad column to see just how you get from potato salad to skanks and leather. Anyway, I hardly ever read newspapers anymore. That's what the Internet is for. Newspapers are for cranky old people who have time to sit around writing letters to the editors.

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    1. It's a slippery, mayo-slimed slope from potato salad to skank, my friend!

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  4. Obviously, anyone offended by that article has had a loved one go the Jarvis route or, perhaps ended up there themselves. Poor them. But hypothetical jokes are still funny to the rest of us. And besides that, it's not bad that you wrote it - it's the editors fault for printing it. So chin up.

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    1. My chin is firmly up, Jeannie!! (You think he worked on Jarvis for a while????? Huh...)

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  5. I once had to go through five people on the phone to tell a corporate office of a retail store that somebody had done a good job. They had a fully staffed complaint department, but nobody knew who to connect me with to tell them that I was happy.

    One squeaky wheel does not make a consensus. [was gonna use the rotten apple in the barrel analogy, but was afraid it might give you ideas -- putting somebody in a barrel and sending them over niagara is still illegal in canada right?]

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    1. Yes Karen, I'm afraid it IS still illegal. Apparently you can walk a tightrope across the falls but not put letter writers in a barrel.

      Every company should have a happy department! What a grand idea! And by the way, it's so good to see YOUR happy face around here! Yay!!!!

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  6. Well that's just silly. Your potato salad article is not better suited to the tabloids. Now, if you had written "Bojac potato salad is the love child of a three-headed space alien and some member of the Kardashian Klan adopted by Angelina Jolie during her heart-breaking split from hubby Brad Pitt who isn't as pretty as he used to be and it is like getting heroin from my Mom"... THAT would be better suited to the tabloids.

    But seriously, you MASH the potatoes? That's just weird.

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    1. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! You are SO funny Mr. VanSant! But what happened to Britney? Shouldn't she have been in there somewhere???

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  7. i loved both articles and they were very funny! And too bad on the drive ins. They've been showing porn since I was in high school in the early 80s. We used to park behind the Friendly's in Hyannis and try to see it on the drive in screen, through the trees. As for potato salad,gotta have it chunky style! YUM! My mom's is the best IMHO.

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    1. That was YOU parked behind Friendly's???? I thought your face looked familiar! :)

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  8. Opinions are like a-holes, everybody has one! Don't sweat it Cathy. Although, this advice is coming from me, an equal opportunity offender. Apparently, I have the great gift of offending huge groups of the population, not just a couple of sour grapes :)

    PS Wish I could throw you some extra bucks, but as you know from my "Busted and Disgusted" post, I'm a bit tapped at the present. Sorry about that. Normally, I would be all over this cause. Good luck, and I hope you raise a lot of awareness and cash. xo

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    1. HA! I love the "opinion" bit of wisdom. Too funny!

      And don't worry about the cashola at all, Jay, I mean I'm pretty much flat busted right now too. (Maybe I need to do a little skanking and leathering for profit on the side....)

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  9. "not to mention 'skank and leather'."

    But didn't they mention it right there?

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    1. Yes, you are absolutely right, John. Apparently it's not OK to mention skank and leather in a column but it's perfectly fine in a letter!!!

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  10. I did get one of those emails and just deleted it....little devils eh?

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    1. Devils indeed ... and that's the POLITE teminology!

      DELORES - THANK you SO MUCH for your kind and generous donation to the Muskoka Novel Marathon. It means so much to me! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! oxoxoxo

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  11. you know what they say about opinions...

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  12. I'm sure the writer felt much better after he/she worked that pickle out of his ass.

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  13. Well, see, the good thing there is that his criticism isn't not really aimed at you. I mean, he thinks it is, but it's not. These are blog posts they're re-working into columns, right? So it's really on the newspaper and the editorial team. If they thought it was okay, then this guy is just being a cranky head, and there are always cranky heads. Too many of them, in fact.
    I may or may not be one of them.

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  14. Oh dear. According to commenter P.T., I guess I'm a "cranky old person", because I'm most definitely a newspaper addict. Always have been. But I've never written a letter of complaint. Only "attaboys" and "attagirls". I figure, we've gotta offer as much support as we can to keep our newspapers going. As for you getting nasty letters about your columns, PBBBBT! At least, that means they're READING them, right? (And this cranky old person thought they were both funny.)

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  15. Sorry to hear about the nastiness in the mail...especially the one from the former co-worker. Some folks don't get humour...

    Yeah, I got one of those emails this morning. I saw it and said to myself, "Self...whyfor did she send me that?" Then I said, "WTF?" and didn't click on it. I've been fished in before my friend...

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  16. For some reason, it's so much easier to complain about a little than to praise for the lot. Being one who hardly reads the newspaper - sorry - I at least applaud the guy for reading it but sadly you're right, a joke can be taken the wrong way for no reason at all, simply because the opinion is different. Yet, your mom liked it. Go figure.

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  17. As a long-time columnist, I entirely resonate with your experiences. Everyone is a critic.

    But doing work for free? No wonder the rest of us are having such trouble staying employed! I'm just glad I'm not working in your market. You're way too good and way too inexpensive for me to compete!

    And I'm glad you blog. This one is such a delight. Not just this particular posts, but the blog overall. Thanks.

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  18. Good luck with your novel marathon. I have gone so far as to download the software to get started... I guess I'm just in a rut of sorts.

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  19. As my British, dry-witted and uptight Grandfather would say, "Sounds like someone needs an enema."

    I hope he gets the surgery he needs and they can remove that stick up his ass. Don't let the Melvins get you down.

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  20. Amazing what moves someone to write a letter to the editor. I must go read this provacative potato salad piece. :)

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  21. Your critic says he was a "humour writer" for the Muskoka Sun. I must dispute his claim. How could someone with no sense of humor write funny?

    I just read your scandalous potato salad piece and thought it was funny and done in not only good but mouth watering taste. Carry on Cathy!

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