I rarely address criticisms of stories we run in the paper, as I think it is a useless endeavor, since critics have generally already made of their minds on an issue and have already taken to their bully pulpit, rallying their like-minded buddies to their way of thinking.
As a journalist with over 30 years of writing stories and columns, many of which have angered people, I’ve learned responding only validates the critics. This is why the staff here at the Tullahoma News rarely responds to the numerous trolls who criticize various stories on Facebook. Opinions are like noses, everyone has theirs and plans on keeping the one they have. I advise my staff that anytime you do a story that makes someone feel uncomfortable, there are going to be folks who want to kill the messenger even though everything in the story is completely accurate. Folks love it when it’s about someone else but hate it when it hits close to home. It’s like that everywhere, and it’s especially bad since everyone has social media and thinks that their opinion is important to the rest of the world.
My thought on the use of social media is a lot the same way I think on the use of alcohol. I saw a recent study that showed the high you get from friends liking your social media posts is about the same ecstasy you get in your brain from eating chocolate. It’s a buzz, pure and simple. Folks need validation.
However, I also think there’s a downside. They say that alcohol brings out a person’s true self. I dispute this claim. I think alcohol amplifies one’s self. Meaning, if you’re a jerk sober, you’re going to be a major jerk when you’re drunk. The same goes with social media. A person whose posts surprise you by their rudeness or ill-temper are simply an amplification of who that person really is. In short, if you want to know a person, read their social media. Like it or not, your tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts reflect who you are. And, they circle around in cyberspace for all eternity ready to come back and bite you in the tail at the worst time. Sometimes it’s best just not to press “send.”
Now, you may be asking why I’m breaking with my personal policy not to respond to critics. In this case, it’s more in the area of explaining why I did something. In wrestling terms we would say this was giving fans a “peek behind the curtain” as to what went into publishing both the Alderman Jenna Amacher story about the controversial pictures that were posted following a family gathering and the subsequent story about Alderman Sernobia McGee and her posting financial advice to her social media, which drew criticism.
First off, the Amacher post would not have been a blip on our radar had Mayor Ray Knowis not taken her to task on the city’s social media. Believe it or not, we have better things to do than sit around and monitor the social media of elected officials. However, when the mayor of Tullahoma got on and criticized the social media postings of an elected official that became news. We didn’t make this stuff up. It really happened and we were one of many outlets that ran it. And, in giving equal time, we explained Amacher’s side in great detail, enough that we were criticized in a Letter to the Editor for giving her too much ink on the issue.
As for McGee, it was an innocent repost on her social media of some financial advice when it came to investing one’s stimulus check. However, the post got immediate criticism including some from the district attorney general who suggested the advice could lead some astray if they followed it. She eventually apologized and took the post down. This post, of course, got a number of people inquiring how we could ignore her post when we had just put Amacher on the front page for her post.
Those folks were right. It would have been unfair for us to ignore her social media error after reporting on Amacher’s post, even though the trigger to that story was the mayor’s taking to task of Amacher on the city’s site. We were darned if we did, darned if we didn’t do a story on the McGee post. And if we didn’t, well, the criticism we received from those who support Amacher’s post would have been spot-on if they said we were playing favorites.
You often can’t win being in the media, as we are easy to blame for everything. The right says we’re too left and the left says we’re too right. We either go too deep or we don’t investigate enough. Myself, I’ve got thick skin. You have to have it to be in the business this long.
With that being said, the decision to run both the Amacher and McGee stories were my decisions and mine alone as editor. To blame the writer for doing his or her job is petty. You’re directing your ire in the wrong place. Had my employees refused to do the stories, I would have done them myself. Both were stories that most every news outlet would have done.
And, let me point out that I think many of the criticisms I hear about these two stories come from people who didn’t even read the stories but instead are taking the word of their Facebook messiahs and following blindly, like so many sheep who are unwilling or just too lazy to read the stories themselves and make their own informed decisions. Or, and this is a real possibility, they don’t read it because it’s not free on Facebook and they don’t want to drop a buck for a paper before they go spouting about something they don’t know. Sorry, folks, I don’t go into McDonalds and demand a free Big Mac just because I think it looks delicious and get all indignant when they ask for money. It’s the same with newspapers, except if you pick up The News you may actually get a coupon to get that burger cheaper.
If you’ve got an issue on something we run, call me or email me directly, and I’ll explain what went into a decision because as a reader or even a concerned citizen of Tullahoma, you’re entitled to that. Believe it or not, I’m a nice guy and will talk rationally with you even if all you want to do is rant. Shoot, you may even change my mind, as readers have here before when they reached out with concerns and suggestions. You’d be surprised the changes in the paper which are the direct result of readers making a simple suggestion which began with a criticism. My email is email@example.com and the phone number up here is 931-455-4545.
However, if the closest you get to that conversation with me is a post on a Facebook thread, you have completely wasted your time.