Carroll: Engaging our critics in 2014
In 2013, The Aspen Times fielded extensive feedback from readers, whether it concerned our new website, those Google questions you now have to answer to read full articles, abandoning the purple building on Main Street for newer digs on Hyman Avenue, plus editorials and articles they didn’t like.
For the most part, the discussions — whether in phone, person or via email — were congenial, conflict-free and productive. But there also were those conversations that took on a nasty tenor. So for 2014, I offer a peace pipe to our conspiracy-theory critics with the following pledges:
I will refrain from replying to accusatory emails until having spent at least one-hour outdoors and consumed two cups of black coffee. Or better yet, I will offer a stock reply and leave it at that.
Responding to reader criticism is just part of the job, and oftentimes readers offer constructive points or plausible suggestions. My patience runs short, however, with those who accuse us — or even make the slightest hint — that we’re in the business of covering up stories, playing favorites or pandering to advertisers or corporate interests.
While some readers have pushed my buttons, I’m guilty of having buttons in the first place, so much so that I’ve come to realize that arguing with stubborn readers and conspiracy theorists is a fool’s errand that never ends well.
That said, some changes are in order. In 2014, if a reader jumps to an erroneous, false or otherwise ludicrous conclusion, I won’t engage in any more spitting contests. Rather, I’ll let them know: “Yes, you are correct that we are blowing off this story, which is in the public’s best interest, because our advertisers determine what news we cover. In fact I, along with our entire staff of reporters and editors, have been on the take to the highest bidders for years. How do think we bought those McMansions on Red Mountain? In closing, please forward this to your friends, share on Facebook or tweet to your followers. Or, you can always write a letter to the editor.”
If that doesn’t work, I will take a cue from Ryan Clark. For the most part, we’re grateful for the patient and supportive readers we have. It’s the small, angry mob who are the loudest, though, poised to make digs at each opportunity, acting as if the offering of a letter, event listing or business announcement for publication consideration — at no charge to them — is the exact same thing as them dining at a five-star restaurant, with our staff starring as their server. Which brings me to Ryan Clark, the COO of Washington-based Liberty Bottleworks.
A customer launched into a Facebook tirade telling people not to do business with the company and that its employees “wait over a week to you let you know — they lost your payment — they provide a phone number that no one ever answers. If you have a deadline — like Christmas — forget about it.” Clark countered with a Facebook post that said “my customer service team will not be helping you on the weekends. … I am sorry you are upset and I will gladly give you your money back, but I am not sorry our employees were enjoying the holidays. That right is not exclusive to you. … Please be advised we will not be shipping you your order, you will not be charged. I will not do business with anyone that threatens my employees the way you have. Merry Christmas!” Granted, most threats I receive are merely that: threats. Like a recent one from a reader who said my position at the Times “could be short lived” because of my “sharp tongue” reply to yet another email from him suggesting that the Times was conspiring to side with Krabloonik (he clearly doesn’t read our opinion pages).
I will continue to not talk politics on Facebook.
Yes, it’s not a good idea to mix politics with alcohol, and the same goes for social media. I’ve resisted the urges — and there have been some strong ones — to chime in on Facebook posts about President Obama’s missing birth certificate or the latest hurricane that was a direct result of global warming. Some battles are worth fighting, but not the arguments you’ll never win (even when you’re right).
Life is short, so I’ll be keeping a tighter leash on my perspective.
It’s one thing to take your job seriously; it’s another to take yourself seriously. In 2013, I’ve been watching my beloved publisher fight Stage 4 cancer and still try to muster the energy to go to work when she could. I also saw one of my wife’s best friends lose a toddler son.
It’s cliche to say that many of us are guilty of getting so caught up in our daily drama and self-importance that we lose site of what really matters. But it’s true.
Here’s hoping all of our readers — those charming conspiracy theorists included — have a healthy, happy and peaceful 2014.
Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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