I spent an hour or so this week talking to readers regarding concerns they had over the editorial cartoon in last Sunday’s paper.
The cartoon, which happened to be drawn by someone in The Netherlands, showed two Ferguson Police shooting range targets — one representing a black person, the other a white person.
The black target was riddled with bullet holes; the white one was untouched.
When I first saw the cartoon on the website that supplies them to us, late on Thanksgiving evening, it gave me some measure of pause; it starkly depicted what’s become a common if debatable accusation: that officers in Ferguson, and maybe police officers in general, are much more likely to shoot black suspects that white ones.
Since I did have that uneasy feeling, I showed it to city editor Kim Jackson and asked if he thought it was OK for us to publish; it’s standard procedure in every good newsroom to seek second opinions.
The Chief thought it was OK, which was how I felt also, so we went with it.
That prompted three people — all women, each probably around 70 or older — who not only didn’t share the view of the cartoonist but didn’t think the cartoon should have been published. Their concerns mainly boiled down to two things:
• The cartoon served to pour gasoline on the fire of what’s already a highly inflamed situation in Missouri;
• It made police officers look like racists.
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One of the callers asked why I thought it “made sense” to choose a cartoon like that, why I thought it was “a good idea.”
Well, I told her, given that we needed a cartoon, and that the shooting practice cartoon was the best of a thin collection to choose from, and that my longtime colleague and I had both deemed it acceptable, then based on that framework it did make sense and was indeed a good idea.
I also suggested that I didn’t see the cartoon as further incitement to riot; looters don’t really read editorial pages, a point she agreed with.
Whenever anyone contacts me to disagree about something or to lodge a complaint (or offer a compliment, which does happen as well), I always sort of assume the person who took the time to call or write represents many other similar-thinking folks who just didn’t go to the trouble of communicating their feelings; that’s understandable — people are busy and have to prioritize their time.
Thus, those three ladies I spoke with likely are three among, say, 300 or 3,000 who feel the same way.
To their credit, each of the women was cordial, and they also did what not every person with a complaint does: listen patiently while I gave the paper’s side of the story — in this case, both as it pertained to that particular cartoon, and the editorial page in general.
Thus they heard about the second opinion, and how the cartoon was the best of a meager bunch on a holiday weekend that apparently meant extended time off for many cartoonists.
They also heard that the cartoons and syndicated columns we publish may or may not represent the views of the newspaper, that the strategy is to provide a range of takes on any given subject, and that if a reader never took issue with anything on the editorial page of his or her paper, then the editorial page editor wasn’t doing a very good job.
After today, the Democrat-Herald’s editorial page, as well as the page in the Sunday Gazette-Times, will have a new editor. The old one, after 25 years at the Albany paper and 30 years in the newspaper business, is moving on to a new adventure.
To those three women upset over last weekend’s cartoon and everyone else who’s ever taken note of what I put together, thank you. I’m forever humbled that you cared enough to pay attention, and I’ll always wish for you the kind of newspaper you deserve. (sl)
Follow Steve Lundeberg on Twitter, @AnyGivenLundy, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.