Writing Your Local Paper

Originally posted 2.18.2007

Got a problem with your local newspaper? Look no further. A four-year veteran of the Capital-Journal, I’ve seen countless emails and taken countless phone calls with reader complaints.
Here’s how you do it:

Email Phase – Start off with a fire-touched email that makes absolutely no sense. If you can ignore most of the basics of English grammar, all the better. Take this email from jgriffith19@cox.net, with the subject line “Entertainment mag”: “Why is it that one week you put the names of teams playing in “This Week’s Sports Action”, and the next week all you have there is College Basketball, or NBA basketball, but nothing to tell which teams are playing?”
This is brilliant. She starts off with a subject line that automatically makes the email look like spam, so the odds of someone actually reading it are reduced by about 70 percent. Plus, it has nothing to do with the actual subject of the email. Then she cites something called “This Week’s Sports Action” which nobody at the Capital-Journal has ever heard of. Our best guess is that she’s referring to “Radio/TV watch” which, in her defense, sounds pretty much the same as “This Week’s Sports Action.” I don’t even know where to go from there. Actually, I can’t even tell what her complaint is. All I know is that it involves scheduling, the NBA, and/or college sports. At least she narrowed it down.

Phone Call Phase – As with any interpersonal communication, make sure to sound angry and use accusatory language in the initial greeting. You want to put the person on the other end of the line on the defensive as soon as possible, preferably before he even knows what the issue is and before you even know who you’re talking to. Just like in the email phase, you want to confuse them and make sure there is no way they can tell exactly what you’re talking about. And don’t call during normal business hours when all the editors are around. You won’t get nearly frustrated enough that way. You want to call at about 10:30 p.m., when the only people there are copy editors scrambling to make deadline. That way, they’ll be irritated they had to take a call, and it will also assure you that the person who can address your complaint won’t be back until the next morning.  If all goes as planned, they’ll transfer you so you can leave a profane voicemail on an editor’s machine.

The Reply Phase – If in your voicemail you didn’t sound like you were on Day 3 of a four-day bender with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, you’ll probably be getting a response from an editor the next day. Usually, it will be a short, emotionless email explaining as concisely as possible why the newspaper did what it did. Something like this: “Larry, thank you for your feedback. We ran KU on the front page and K-State on page 6 because KU won the Big 12 basketball championship and K-State won an equestrian race. Thanks for reading.”
No doubt, the explanation will make no sense to you. No matter your perspective, whichever team you root for is the team the paper is always downplaying. The paper is a “(rival team’s primary color)-colored rag.” The curt response will only make you angrier, which is the perfect excuse for …

The Race Card Phase – When in doubt, play the race card. It makes everyone defensive and puts the whole conversation outside the realm of reality, which is where newspapers thrive and you flounder. When you play the race card, you can say whatever you want, but the newspaper can’t.
Email something like this: “How come you wrote a article about the black guy’s rape conviction when the white guy at (rival school) got a PARKING TICKET!!!!!!!!!!! Is the paper trying to protect WHITE playes and always dragging blacks and there mistaks thru the mud???!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!??!?!?!!? I bet you wont have a anser!!!!!” You’re so angry, you don’t have time to hit the spell check button, which will really come through. Your email is probably going to be a hit in the newsroom at this point. It may even get taped to a wall or stuck on a cork board somewhere. Also, your inability to spell and lack of a cogent point will guarantee that you won’t get any more replies.

This, to quote a local editor, is how your complaint will die: “Just another wacko.”

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