Blasting the messenger |

Blasting the messenger

Alex Miller

One doesn’t survive long in the news business with a thin skin. Even so, after 20 or so years in and around the media industry, I’m still surprised at times by how downright nasty people can be. Oh, sure, we screw up. Numbers and words get transposed, calendar items run the day after the event, facts get mangled, and sometimes people are misquoted (although it’s often the quoter regretting what he or she did, in fact, say). Some are smaller sins most people can understand. Sometimes we get flamed for the smallest infraction, as if we were simply out to get somebody by printing incorrect information. The fact is, we do our best to put out the best, most accurate newspaper we can on a daily basis. We’re not a monthly or even a weekly, with the luxury and ability to give everything half-a-dozen reads, and as they say, we’re merely writing the first draft of history. It ain’t gonna be perfect, and we can handle the criticism, the legitimate criticism, when we get it wrong. That’s simply part of the process with a community newspaper. With as much information as we generate, criticism – positive and negative – flows in a steady stream through our newsroom daily. If someone wants to write in to say we’re a bunch of morons who got our journalism degrees out of a box of Cracker Jack, well, such is their prerogative. We acknowledge our mistakes, print front-page corrections when necessary and, at times, point out when we were right. What’s more troublesome, though, is the lack of civility that accompanies so much of the criticism. It’s indicative of a larger trend, I know, but it’s still disheartening. If a reader thinks we missed the point on a story, is it really necessary to suggest that we’re mentally deficient, agenda-driven liberals or conservatives or anything else? And it’s not just us in the newsroom; similar vitriol, sometimes laced with profanity and insult, is leveled at other letter writers and people written about in our stories. It seems there’s a lot of hate out there, even in our ostensibly happy valley. Of course, we open our door to criticism and comment and, unlike many papers, even allow it anonymously through Tipsline and our Web comments. Much of the time, the exchanges that take place within these venues are lively and intelligent, a Jeffersonian ideal of free speech and the sharing of ideas and opinions. Other times, it devolves into name calling and meanspirited finger-pointing. At that point, reasonably discourse has left the building, no one can hear what the writer is saying, and all points are lost. Sticks and stones, one could say. Those words can’t really hurt us, though they may sting at times. The real damage is to the dignity of the people who choose the bludgeon of vitriol over the rapier of a well-reasoned argument. Assistant Managing Editor Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or amiller@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado

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