A caller swore at me last week and it was surprising — only because it made me realize just how rare that has become in recent years.
I’ve been representing The Kansas City Star’s readers and their points of view to the newsroom for over a decade now, and it’s crystal clear to me that people who read newspapers tend to be reasonable and well informed. Nothing unexpected in that.
There are still topics that stir passion in the people who call, email and send (increasingly rare) postal mail. They’re the usual suspects: immigration, abortion, war, religion. My recent cussin’ caller was worked up over an Opinion section piece on immigration policy that he disagreed with vehemently.
And that’s fine. People on all sides of that important debate can lose their cool.
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So I wonder why palpable anger is becoming more infrequent with the people who contact me. The volumes of feedback I receive are easily at an all-time high today, mostly in the form of email. That’s reflective of the worldwide adoption of the digital age.
Factor in the feedback from Facebook and Twitter, and my virtual mailbag is constantly bursting at the seams. A lot of that online chatter is intensely negative, particularly on Twitter, which has become the Internet’s complaint box.
Those readers are commenting almost exclusively about content they’ve read online. And many, if not most, don’t even read past the headline. While I often find good commentary there, those discussions often miss the point of the story they’re ostensibly about, as they become debates on the issue, not how it’s covered.
Something special endures about people who read the paper edition. My far from scientific hunch is that we retain more when we read news in print, even if it’s just a roundup of briefs.
For example, a reader last Friday noted the headline “Restroom shooting” on an “Around the World” item about a Utah sixth-grade teacher who accidentally discharged her gun at school omitted mention of what many people would consider the most important detail: She was legally carrying a concealed firearm. That’s attention to detail that I’ve come to expect from print readers.
I also suspect part of the shift in tone I’m sensing has to do with the demise of talk radio and the balkanization of openly partisan outlets, both on the Internet and in the Fox News/MSNBC realm.
There are many readers who have turned to those sources that will show them only the news that reflects their world views. It is creating a new generation of media consumers who I feel are missing out on a broader understanding of the world. They hear straw-man caricatures of their opponents’ positions, not reality.
The hyperventilating pundits on both sides of the aisle have been braying that “mainstream” reporting is doomed for years now. I’m increasingly sure they’re dead wrong.
The majority of readers has a huge appetite for real news, reported as fairly and accurately as possible, I believe. They know where they can go if they want selective detail and spin, spin, spin.
And that’s why your feedback — especially from those of you reading on paper — is so reliable a barometer of where The Star gets it right or wrong.