It’s time to face the music
It turns out that we have an odd and unanticipated discussion bubbling between the lines of The Union’s editorial pages.
And it centers around me. The new guy. More specifically, the little picture of me that normally sits on top of the second column. It’s getting pilloried by some critics.
One reader in an e-mail called me the frowning editor. I thought that was better than the clowning editor or the fawning editor and moved on with my life.
But like dark rumbling clouds on the horizon, the murmurs, the comments and the uneasy looks were things I couldn’t ignore.
Others, always smiling, told me that their friends or family members thought I looked stern, serious, mean. A friend who saw the picture on the Web joked that I looked like the BTK killer.
Another friend said she would have preferred seeing my killer smile, then reassured me that was a compliment.
Finally, I received an e-mail Friday and the reader said I looked like I’m about to say something nasty.
If only I had smiled.
When I was deciding if I wanted to go for this job, I debated whether I could handle seeing my picture in the newspaper week after week after week. It seems odd to look at it in the paper, and I’ll probably never get used to it.
So, I was somewhat tense when, on my first day on the job, I strolled out The Union’s front door and then stood there like a man facing a firing squad for photographer David Torch.
I recall thinking at the time that looking into the camera lens is something that every editor should go through as a way to relate with all the people photographed for the newspaper. But those consoling thoughts didn’t subdue the pounding in my chest.
In my case, I worried not only about how I looked, but how I should look.
It seemed like a fair question to contemplate at that moment. It’s not every day you get introduced to thousands of people on the front page of the newspaper. As we say back home, that’s a pretty big deal.
So, I thought the more straightforward look was the way to go and then I expected or maybe hoped that this entire thought process would vanish forever.
But just the opposite happened. It’s become an issue and now it’s time to confront it and seek comfort in closure.
As a result, I want all you smiling and nonsmiling faces to decide if I need to do an about-face.
David, who deserves both compliments and condolences for his involvement in this novel situation, has taken another 20 or 30 shots of me. An informal committee of savvy, career-minded journalists that report to me have narrowed the field of new photos to five, which you no doubt have noticed accompany this column.
As you look left to right, the first picture you see is the one that ran with the first two columns. I still don’t think it’s that bad, by the way.
If you care, I’d like you to let me know which mug you want to see every week on this page. You can vote the same way that you submit letters to the editor. At the end of March, I’ll let you know the results.
And when it’s over, I’ll be happy.
An Other Voices contributor was not pleased with a headline that I put on his column that ran March 15. The column reflected on what he learned after participating in a meeting on a zoning issue.
The column was thoughtful, insightful and well-written. I eagerly dived into writing the headline, which is an art and that leaves it open to interpretation.
Since the writer identified himself as a teacher, I wrote a headline that said “Teacher learns in the trenches,” which I thought was a good hook for the column. The writer hated it and asked me to rerun the entire 750-word column with his headline, which I declined to do. Space on the editorial page is precious and we did provide him with considerable space for his thoughts.
This episode has left me more committed to using readers’ suggested headlines, but I still reserve the right to change them. By the way, if you didn’t read the column, you can find it on http://www.theunion.com
Pat Butler is the editor of The Union. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 477-4235.
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