What does the editor do all day?

Friday, January 21, 2005

Gee, Joe, what do you do all day?

Golly willikers, Joe, I'd like to have a job where all you do is write one column a week.

Good gravy, Joe, do your bosses know how little work you do?

Aside from the fact that no one -- except yours truly, perhaps -- ever says "Gee," "Golly willikers" or "Good gravy" anymore, I hear the comments above quite a bit.

By the way, the answers to those questions, in order:

Lots of stuff.

Could you stand it if I wrote two columns a week?

What my bosses don't know won't hurt them, so mum's the word.

In my spare time, I deal with you -- at least those of you who take the time to raise good questions about some of the decisions we make that affect the news columns of the Southeast Missourian.

Over the past few days, three questions were raised that I want to share with you. Each question was asked in the spirit of better understanding, and I hope my answers offer the same.

1. My husband was named in Speak Out. I thought you didn't allow personal attacks.

We make every effort to keep unwarranted personal attacks out of Speak Out -- and letters to the editor too. However, there are some individuals who are public figures and are often criticized by Speak Out callers. I'm one of them. That's why you see my name in Speak Out quite a bit. And whoever happens to be the mayor of Cape Girardeau also is a frequent target. The mayor and I, along with other public figures, have an opportunity to learn through Speak Out what's troubling our constituents, whether they are readers or taxpayers, and respond accordingly.

But when does someone become a public figure? Sometimes that happens because of a person's involvement in community affairs that results in news coverage. The instances cited by the wife who called this week were borderline at best.

Lesson: Be very careful with everyone's good name.

2. The photo on the front page showing blacks in whiteface was extremely offensive to me.

This photograph prompted feedback from a couple of other readers too. The concern is this: Whites in blackface, which used to be common in minstrel shows, are patently offensive to blacks and whites, because they portray blacks in an offensive way. So why isn't the same true for blacks who perform in whiteface?

It wasn't until after the reader who brought this up had left the building that I realized the performers at one of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations were mimes. All mimes wear whiteface.

The photo was striking and emotional. And reports from the performance were positive.

Lesson: Be sensitive to the diversity of your readers.

3. Why won't you publish my letter to the editor?

There are very few letters submitted to the Southeast Missourian that don't get published. Some that are offensive, libelous, erroneous or incoherent do not.

The biggest barrier is communication. Many letters are submitted by e-mail. Like most companies, the Southeast Missourian's e-mail system has filters to keep out spam. Those filters work. Sometimes they work too well. I now respond to every letter I receive just so the sender will know I got it. A follow-up phone call from the sender is a big help too, especially if the letter is time sensitive.

Lesson: Don't take anything for granted.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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