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Comes with the territory

Part of life in the public eye is accepting criticism as part of the role. You are not require to think it is fair. Or to believe you don’t have it coming because is is unfair. It just is.

At root you are criticized ” fairly or unfairly ” because you are perceived to have power.

In my work as newspaper editor and pundit, I have that sharp vantage as critic and as someone who is criticized. Certainly one leads to the other as sure as a muzzle loader recoils when you squeeze the trigger. A weapon that blunt can also blow up in your face.



My outfit is good about publishing the criticism directed at us as well as our commentaries. We even get to snappy comments on the Web site at the end of commentaries and stories, as well as cranky calls to our phone-in forum, Tipsline.

We also pay ” a pittance, to be sure ” columnists inclined to blast our positions and reporting. We acknowledge criticisms in a regular column called “Making the News.” Our publisher has been known to express his disappointment in our work a time or two in print and on the Web.



And now we’ve gone to the somewhat extraordinary length of having an ombudsman to cluck at us as he sees fit.

So it’s not as if we don’t hold ourselves accountable.

To be sure, we’re not shy about expressing our opinions, either. Our forum has grown ever more robust over the past handful of years, too. Our staff pundits, regular and guest columnists and letter writers run the gamut of points of view, left to right, local to universal.



So the criticism of our criticism also comes from all over the board.

How much of it is effective, though? Well, good luck getting a politician ” any politician ” to admit changing his or her mind based on editorials. Even if they do. That’s understood. I’ll still give them all the benefit of my of course good advice.

How much of the criticism of my actions do I take to heart? Good question. I do find that I tend to be a lot less bothered by it than most folks. More practice, I guess. You don’t do what I do, or what anyone in a public role does if your skin is thin. At least not for long. Your hide toughens or you retreat.

But how much do you consider your critics’ assertions? I know that I look at the critic. If my critic is someone I respect, I tend to take a lot of their message to heart. If it’s a Tipsline caller or Web commenter, chances are I’ll just find their points unworthy of more than a chuckle. Sometimes, though, the quality of the thought or the wording will bring me up short and I’ll think about what they had to say.

I’m not much taken by titles, though. If a superior chastises me and I see that he or she don’t really know what they are talking about, I’m horrible about tuning them out. Some personality test or another that I took years ago pointed that out, which means that’s a categorized trait I must share with many others. At the other end, a kid I just hired can cut me to the quick with an apt observation. Gotta stay on your toes.

Criticism isn’t so much about persuasion, though. I mean, there’s an element to that. But someone who calls the Tipsline to call me a moron isn’t about trying to persuade me to take a different position. The ombudsman writing a stern column about one of my many, many misdeeds only convinces me he doesn’t quite understand the issue or those complainers he mistakes for simple, ordinary, aggrieved readers.

Just as the targets of my criticism don’t believe I understand why they are doing or about to do what they are doing.

And frankly, I don’t concern myself with changing anyone’s mind about anything. The real point is to get them to think more about their own position, their own beliefs. So I try to say precisely what I think, without being wishy-washy, phony or pretending to come down from Olympus with some scholarly sounding BS.

I’m not even writing for the people I criticize. They’ll do what they do, take or not take what they will from my best advice. But I’m really writing for the “ordinary” readers, that great mass of people who vote people in and out of office, whose lives can be dramatically affected by those of us living in the public domain. The people who really “own” the community.

They forget, or don’t take up their own reins. And that is the real shame, when they fail to pay attention to issues that really do concern them. But the real power is indeed with the people. I’m just hoping to get them to think a little more about the civic decisions that shape their lives.

Not us, those vain enough to thrust ourselves upon them. One some level, I believe we fully deserve all the criticism flung our way. Nothing wrong with thinking about your own positions and actions a bit more. You don’t have to take a crtic as gospel, or an enemy.

The best critics are your friends. And vice versa.


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