When people ask me what I do for work, I like to say that I ask people how to properly spell their names for a living.
If a fellow journalist is in the room, I sometimes get a laugh.
If not? Crickets.
Lately though, I’ve started to give a different answer to that question.
“So, what do you do?”
“I argue with people about things that don’t really matter.”
“Ohhh. Well… that’s nice.”
It’s a fun conversation to have. And I’ve had a few fun ones lately.
Maybe there’s been an abundance of full moons, or maybe this summer heat is making people go a lil’ loopy – myself included, I’m sure. But whatever the case, I’ve had numerous interesting interactions the past few months.
Some of the phone calls and emails are sarcastic, many are exceedingly polite and a few are more vicious than necessary.
Nevertheless, let’s just call it all constructive criticism.
And so, in a nod to noted philosopher Homer Simpson – who once claimed that “self-improvement has always been a passion of mine” – I’ve decided to take the unsolicited advice and run with it.
All of it.
As such, in the future I vow to heed the following advice:
• Write more about girls softball;
• Write less about girls softball;
• Describe South Surrey businesses as being in White Rock;
• “Learn to read a map, fer crissakes!”
• Don’t focus so much on junior hockey;
• Don’t forget the Surrey Eagles training camp starts this week;
• Publish a paper that’s not so damn negative all the time;
• Seriously, don’t forget about girls softball;
• Stop ignoring every important story in the city;
• Stop sucking.
(That last one came courtesy of a recent letter to the editor, regarding the paper’s coverage of local sports. Thanks, as always!)
The thing is, a reporter’s job is in the public eye. Our names are on the pages of the paper multiple times each week, and online for eternity. The ability for a reader to send us a comment – good or bad – is but a mouse-click away.
Telling me how much I suck takes 10 seconds. (Try it, I’ll time you!)
Of course, there are those who get it way worse than any reporter. We live in an era now in which everyone – whether they live in glass houses or not – feels it’s their right to throw stones at whomever, and whatever, they’d like.
Want to tell a professional baseball player he’s killing your fantasy team? He’s probably on Twitter.
Want to give a review of some musician’s latest work? Find him on Facebook.
Want to holler at a politician? Go nuts. (That’s what we pay them for, right?) Though you’ll probably have to go through a handful of PR flacks first, which will either intensify your anger or cause you to give up entirely.
Hmmm, maybe that’s the solution – have all my calls and emails re-routed through six different people first.
Of course, a more practical – and visceral – solution would be to return fire with some variation of the old “I don’t come to where you work and yell at you!” retort, but I’ve never done that.
The truth is, as reporters, none of it bothers us. We can’t take it personally. Sometimes, we’re actually alerted to a legitimate mistake (rare, of course) or something we’ve missed; and other times, the critique is just fair comment.
Maybe sometimes I really am an idiot. Who’s to say?
If nothing else, I figured I’d try to disabuse people of the notion that their voices of dissent are too often ignored.
They’re not. You’ve been heard loud and clear.
I’ll try my best not to suck so much in the future. Promise.
Nick Greenizan is a sports reporter for the Peace Arch News.