Every day there is something either in — or about — the newspaper that makes someone upset, agitated, angry or downright irate.
Every single day — without exception. As the old “Saturday Night Live” character Rosanne Roseannadanna used to say, “It’s always something, if it’s not one thing it’s another.”
Most frequently it’s something we write about in news — usually involving crime or an incident of some kind. There are always conflicting opinions over what actually happened. When families get involved it reaches a new level of angst. But it’s not always a news story, though. Often it’s a photo, editorial cartoon or comic. Sometimes it’s a relative left out of a wedding announcement or obituary. Frequently it’s about something in sports. Rivalries like Carolina-Duke or Cumminngs-Williams get people fired up. A parent who feels their child isn’t getting the proper credit is also a cause for calls to us. Right now, Charity Apple is in an online back-and-forth with a Van Halen fan over a concert review. Unhappy home delivery customers are another source of the angriest phone calls I receive on a given day.
And I won’t even go into the rivalry between Democrats and Republicans. Makes Carolina-Duke look like playtime with Barney the Dinosaur.
Nearly each and every one demands that the newspaper apologize publicly for whatever it is we may have done — or not done.
Yesterday, this cartoon is what made a customer irate to the point of near apoplexy.
The call I received was astonishing in its anger over this particular editorial cartoon, which I selected based on the weird weather not only here but elsewhere over the past couple of years. Few could argue that temperatures have changed on a dime in recent weeks or that violent storms seem to spin up from nowhere and wreak incredible havoc. I thought it a good illustration of how quickly things change. It seemed harmless enough, even amusing.
This reader was beside himself because he felt the cartoon showed disrespect for his religious beliefs. “God is NOT bioplar,” he said with great force. When I said the cartoon made no obvious reference to God, he was not phased and demanded that the newspaper offer an apology in the next day’s edition.
I told him that I felt the cartoon fair and engaging. I never saw it as an issue of religion and didn’t make the decision to publish it with that in mind. I told him that he would be welcome to write a letter to the editor expressing his displeasure and that I would be happy to publish his views there. This didn’t satisfy him either, but he said he would write a letter. I will print it as soon as I receive it.
Later I posted the cartoon on a social media site and solicited comments about it. Nearly all felt the cartoon was in OK taste and not very offensive at all. A couple remarked that those who suffer from bipolar disorder might be upset by it — but not likely. None saw what this particular customer did. Many thought it to be very funny.
But that doesn’t mean the reader’s offense is something to be tossed away lightly. His feelings are real and deserve to be treated with respect.
Like I said, something in the newspaper upsets someone each day for reasons that vary as widely as the personalities who make up our audience. It’s not our goal to anger people, it’s simply an occupational hazard.
But I’m hung up on the idea of apologies. Three times in the past seven days I’ve been taken to task and told the newspaper should apologize for something printed, not printed or printed inaccurately. Actually, all three used the word “demand.” The concept of demanding an apology seems to be a growing movement in our nation. People in public life are often told they must apologize for remarks or actions — especially politicians. The irony here is, once an apology is demanded and submitted often the audience for the apology refuses to accept it as genuine.
It doesn’t usually dawn on me to ask for an apology from anyone and the newspaper has refrained from doing so as well. Two times in the past year we have reported about remarks made by local politicians that deserved to be questioned. We dutifully wrote about both instances. In neither case did we editorially call for an apology. If someone wants to apologize, it’s their decision, not one we should demand. And when someone offers an apology for a remark or action, I tend to accept it and move on.
As far as the newspaper is concerned, the matter of apologies is tricky. We can’t apologize for something done in the course of our normal business that we would do again. And if we apologize every single time it’s demanded then there would be little room for news, features, photos or comics.
Just know that we don’t set out to offend, even though sometimes it’s the cost of doing business; that a letter to the Open Forum is a great opportuity for a reader to respond to something he or she doesn’t like; and that when we publish a correction it’s by definition an admission that we were wrong.