We’ve unfortunately become a society of people seemingly outraged at just about everything and nothing at the same time.
I’ve been in journalism, specifically print newspapers, for 35 years. Never can I remember a time when so many people get so visibly and verbally angry if someone voices a position of opposition.
A couple of advertisements in January editions of The Connection — one in support of President Biden’s inauguration and the other applauding perceived accomplishments by President Trump — raised the ire of a few residents who saw fit to lob verbal firebombs at me and staff members in recent days. Opinions in those ads paid for by a Village club and individual residents were labeled as hate speech, propaganda, specious, reprehensible, outrageous and a variety of other words I won’t repeat. Spaces on Nextdoor were ablaze with verbal skewers of this publication and our staff, and many of the offerings, ironically, contained errors in fact.
In my attempt to respond to each complaint received directly, I’ve emphasized the beauty of freedom of speech, which does, according to the Constitution and rule of law in our nation, encompass editorial and paid content in all media. My consistent message was that although I have a hard time stomaching vitriol coming from all sides in our current national climate, I will still strongly defend the right of all to exercise free speech. Freedom of speech in the United States means we give up the freedom to avoid speech in the public square that might offend us. If we are able to eliminate all speech that offends, there really is no such thing as free speech. Free speech is nonnegotiable for a nation that values individual freedoms.
What probably saddens me most is that some readers would let one page they don’t agree with cloud how they see the vast library of great stories and advertising content that have occupied more than 1,500 other pages of The Connection in the past year. We consistently tell the good news of Tellico Village, and we connect residents with some really good businesses.
Yes, telling the truth matters. I can still hear the way my first editor, Archie McKay, drilled into his young, inexperienced charges that getting it right was important. Things like spelling a person’s name correctly, striving to be accurate with quotes, ensuring that what a person meant when they provided you information comes through in the finished product. “If you’re not going to be a reporter who cares about getting it right, get out of my newsroom” was a phrase he used with the new grunts. Archie would have smiled — well, he didn’t smile so much as he smirked — if he could have heard me teaching later generations of journalists the same skill sets in a similar, albeit less dramatic, no-nonsense approach. Journalists aren’t perfect, but most really do work to get it right.
By any measuring stick you choose to use, former President Donald Trump was often loose with the truth, preferring to think of truth as relative when it met his needs and furthered his agenda. The troubling reality is that he isn’t the first politician from our country’s dominant parties, nor will he be the last, to be loose with facts. Trump was just arguably more accomplished at it than most. Frankly, bending the truth for a desired outcome is sport for many Americans in business, religion, education, politics — just pick a category of our society and you’ll with little effort find examples.
As a community publication that reaches 4,600 households in Tellico Village every week, some of our goals are to inform, enlighten and engage. We work to provide a variety of content for a community of people with diverse backgrounds and opinions. Not everyone liked the way The Connection accomplished that with a couple of recent paid opinions. I promise we never set out to just make readers angry.
While we’ve all been through a challenging year made more difficult by a pandemic and the most contentious political season of my lifetime, I refuse to believe that being angry is the new normal. My hope is I’m not in the minority.