We get our share of angry phone calls.
Every newspaper does. It comes with the territory.
If we made everyone happy, we probably wouldn’t be doing our jobs.
Most of the calls I get end cordially.
Sometimes I’ll change my mind; sometimes it’s the other way around.
Sometimes we can only agree to disagree.
An old editor of mine once told me about how he dealt with an especially angry caller.
“I told the man I was going to transfer him to the circulation department,” the editor said.
“Why?” the man asked.
“Because we don’t want people like you subscribing to our newspaper.”
I promise I’ll never get that angry — we need every subscriber we can get.
But there are times when I just can’t settle the person down.
Recently, a reader called saying she was offended by a story we’d written.
“If you were so offended, why did you read it?” I asked.
“I couldn’t miss it,” the caller said. “It was on the front page!”
If I had been quick witted enough I would have asked whether she’d read the story on the new judge or the one about the spring elections. They were on the front page, too.
My bet is she hadn’t.
Last week I received a phone call criticizing us for a story we ran on Joe Louis being kicked out of Lake Geneva in 1937, apparently because he was African-American.
The caller asked why we’d bring up an event from so long ago that reflected so poorly on the community.
Actually, we were looking for a “local angle” on how to cover Martin Luther King Day. Someone had sent me a clipping about the Louis incident, so it seemed like a fit.
In retrospect, I had to agree with the reader that the story angle might have been a bit of a stretch, but it was still worth running.
As for reflecting poorly on the community, it might actually be the opposite.
Now we argue about parking, not the color of someone’s skin.
The caller added “when I came to town there were signs up saying ‘No Jews Allowed.’”
We never really agreed on whether the story should have been written, but I learned something. I usually do.
No matter how hard you try, there’s always someone you just can’t settle down.
Decades ago, when I was editing another paper, a man was irate on the phone. The conversation ended badly.
A few hours after his angry tirade, he dropped by the office and asked to see me.
I was expecting more of the same, but it turned out to be the opposite.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I was having a bad day.”
Since then I’ve always tried to keep that in mind.
No matter what separates us, we all have bad days.
An early morning email sent me south a few months ago.
The reader was critical of the paper and wanted to drop his subscription.
I agreed with some of the things he said and disagreed with others.
By the end of that back-and-forth we’d become cordial.
I never did convince him to resubscribe, but he did say he’d pick up a paper at the newsstand from time-to-time and tell me how we were doing.
“Drop into the office sometime. We can talk,” I said. “And the coffee is on me.”
“I’ll bring the doughnuts,” he said.
That’s the way all disagreements should end.
Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.