It's nice to be nice? Oh, f--k it

Dateline: Wed 12 Feb 2014


I am amused by the Indianapolis Star's effort to generate sweetness and light in the world, especially (and only) when it comes to mean online comments directed at its fragile staffers.

The premise is something like: the Internet allows people the freedom to be jerks. But don't be a jerk. Remember, reporters are "real people" and it's nice to be nice, so if nothing else, you can always say, "your hair looks nice." Dont be mean to us!!!

As so many have already said in comments on the Star's website regarding this campaign: "Lame." 

Worse. Are we talking about delicate hothouse flowers here, or paid intrepid reporters for a metropolitan daily who should be impervious to the slings and arrows of outrageous readers?

I was once a columnist at the Star. I got my share of mean and hateful comments. As my onetime boss Ted Daniels said once about the features department of which he was editor: "We want to get angry letters. It shows people are reading us and talking about us."

I had been on the columnist beat less than a week when a male caller left this message on my phone: "Ruth. You're fat. You're dumb. And you're a dickhead."

Charming. Fortunately, back in my day, reporters -- even women!!!! -- had thick skins and big shoulders, apparently. I thought the reader's feedback was hilarious, filed it away in my mental notebook as a classic and went on to write and get more insults, as well as an occasional attagirl.

Briefly, when you have a big public forum -- in other words, when you are writing for a newspaper -- you are ideally going to generate buzz. A columnist in particular has a wide berth to speak his or her mind, and that includes writing a rant.

Readers are allowed to rant right back.

And since we stil have free speech, and not santitized "nice" speech, readers are going to call reporters names and insult them in a variety of ways. No matter how cute and sweet and nice and girly the reporters really are.

Of course it's mean to insult someone. But in the big bad world of journalism and daily life, it happens. Get over it.

And be glad someone is reading your drivel.



OINK [Member] said:

"Gosh, I really admire you for hanging in there with such a sucky newspaper!"

2014-02-12 08:49:11

Bill [unverified] said:

I just came across a tape of voicemails I received relating to a certain basketball coach in Bloomington. They were profane, obscene and, sometimes, threatening. Many suggested I perform all kinds of sexual acts, including those on myself, if you get my drift. They are pretty funny now. Not so much, then. But if you put it out there, you have to expect it will come back. And it did.

2014-02-12 08:58:00

Lynn Hopper [unverified] said:

this is just unbelievable. I can see how TV stations would worry about their precious staffers, who compliment each other's "work" on air, but newspaperpeople are made of sterner stuff...or so I used to think. I was never "out there" as much as you, but I, too, have been insulted, as an entertainment reporter, antique writer, and editor of a smaller newspaper. As you said, it meant we were doing something right. And usually, the insult was accompanied by a threat/promise to get us fired. I wonder if that would actually happen these days?

2014-02-12 09:06:15

ruth holladay [unverified] said:

Bill, whenever I wrote about that certain coach, I got the same feedback. It went with the territory with that guy...even those of us who liked and admired him caught hell for not being supportive enough. I also got hate callers simply because in the view of one reader I replaced the beloved columnist John Shaughnessy, and this woman called me daily the first week to tell me how much I stank. C'est la vie.

2014-02-12 09:08:36

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

Most of the nasty reactions I received came when I was at The Star Washington Bureau. It was just as nasty then as now. The main difference now is one letter-writer or comment-maker can have the same or more public impact than we ever had. Though I would like to say I never cared one way or another about the comments that came my, the truth is that when I left The Star, I had a couple of manila envelopes crammed with "good" letters.

2014-02-12 10:38:53

hendy [Member] said:

Was it Menchen who said that if you thought democracy was made of the ugly bits of sausage, you should write a column in a newspaper.

The public is easily provoked, especially by those whom they perceive as having a bully pulpit, or buy ink by the barrel. There's a polarization of opinion, especially on the Internet where fools believe they have anonymity-- then blurt vomitus with seeming impunity. The best revenge is living well, if with a coating of teflon and a supply of rags.

2014-02-12 13:12:06

Sticks and stones [unverified] said:

See what's coming next? A story on online bullying ... why even we at The Star get bullied. Waa, waa, waa. Yet even this won't be a unique story. One of the TV stations is already running a radio promo about adults being bullied online. Give me a break.

2014-02-12 14:25:28

Jennifer Cecil [unverified] said:

Couldn't agree more. I was always told if you're not pissing somebody off, you're not doing your job. I'm a stone cold bitch now and I'd be damned before I let a bunch of civilians without journalism degrees phase me.

2014-02-12 20:10:30

Ray M. [unverified] said:

On my first job, I got a nasty phone call and mentioned it to the city editor. He replied, with a smile, "We're not here to win a popularity contest." I passed that on many times during my career.

2014-02-14 09:21:41

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