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Letter from a parent that makes me want to quit on the spot, now.

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Brain of J, Jan 12, 2007.

  1. Brain of J

    Brain of J Member

    I've dealt with complaints, but this makes me seriously wanna jump of a cliff and never be seen on the face of the planet again.

    My editor handed me this letter a few minutes ago.
    I'll copy excerpts of it that make me wanna hide in a hole and shoot myself.

    "I am a parent speaking for a group of us that is finally had enough. Enough of the less than readable articles and the blurry pictures. Enough of having a child participating in athletics and not being able to clip the articles due to the fact they are poorly written and the stats are incorrect.
    The sad part is we are all "paper x" subscribers and have been for many, many years. We find pride in a quality local product that portrays our hometown kids in the best possible way.
    But not anymore.
    If we want articles we open up the competitor. If we want correct stats and articles worth reading, we open up the competitor. If we want horrible pictures and a recount of what was published on a daily basis, we open up your paper.

    Why would we even look at the sports page when there are better stories being published daily in a out-of-town based newspaper?
    Before you lose your readers, try to correct these problems. I would love to save articles from my hometown paper so my kids can relate to what happened athletically when he/she was in high school.
    Consider this a formal complaint, as for now, we all have been reading the competitor since football season anyway. It's not like we haven't been subjected to this writing just recently,

    Thanks for your time,

    Concerned Parents.

    I'm about to puke here.
    I'm questioning why I'm in this business and why I even bother waking up in the morning. If everyone hates my articles, whats the point?? Granted, I have made mistakes. I'm not perfect, and I'll admit that. But damn. Can you recover from something like that? Is there something I can do to take the edge off with the parents, or is it a lost cause? Should I just give up and start looking for a job waiting tables?
    I love writing and covering sports, but these parents are brutal. This isn't the first complaint and they seem to never be happy.
    If anyone had any advice I would greatly appreciate it!
  2. JME

    JME Member

    Well, I guess the first question would be, is she right?
  3. Brain of J

    Brain of J Member

    On some things, yeah. I have made some mistakes recently, and has felt horrible about them. I dont' regard what I do a complete failure, I have articles I'm proud of.
    The blurry pictures, They knew when they hired me I had no experience taking photos. Some have been blurry, some have not. The camera, and my photography skills combined, leads to a mess sometimes. I'll admit that. But, some of the complaints hurt because I feel they're basing them on one article, this past week's. As for being unreadable, if that were the case my editor would tell me they're unreadable if he was any kind of editor, in my opinion.
  4. don't take it personally

    keep trying to get better

    trust me, we've all been through it
  5. KJIM

    KJIM Well-Known Member

    That's not a nice letter to get, but if they have a point, you might want to take a look at what you're doing.
    Does your paper have as many errors and the parents seem to think? If so, you need to re-evaluate. Don't run blurry photos. Get names and stats right.

    Was coverage better before? Is the competitor really doing a better job? Was it directed to you personally, the editor, or what?

    From the parts of the letter you quoted, it seemed polite, respectful and well thought out - far cry from Johnny's mom calling screaming because her JV kid's name wasn't in the paper for making 2 of 12 free-throw attempts last night.

    The letter's painful to read, but more so if the parents' group has a point.

    Yes, everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone's mistakes are available to the public over breakfast and coffee. This is a part of the job we have to accept, and if we want people to think we know what we're talking about, we need to strive for perfection each and every time.
  6. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member


    To me the thing that stands out the most is the blurry photos. People always complain about "mistakes" in stories when the mistake may be real or it may be that you failed to mention the kid who came in the ninth inning to play second base made a nice play.

    But it's extremely rare to have people bitch about photos. So I would put serious effort in that direction. Got to someone for tips, take a class, something. Don't just throw up your hands and say that they knew what they were getting. Get better.

    Oh, and be accurate.
  7. KJIM's right. I've gotten angry letters before, but they're usually riddled with typos and faulty logic and written by Johnny Superstar's alcoholic mom. The letter that you got ... well, that's different.

    This collective of parents seems to have gone about things in the right way. So now it's your job to respond to their complaints in the right way. If the photos really are blurry and the articles really are poorly written, then turn to the community for help. Run an ad looking for a stringer to help cover games or a part-time photographer to improve the quality of the photos in the paper. If these people really do want to support the hometown paper but feel they're being forced to turn to the out-of-town competitor, then maybe some of them would be willing to help when it comes to providing stats and other minor details. You never know and it can't hurt to ask since they already apparently hate you.

    At the same time, you have to remember that not everyone's cut out for this business. I've worked with a number of stringers and interns trying to break into sports writing. They all love sports and want desperately to write about it for a living, but not all of them are good writers and even fewer are decent photographers. Judging by this letter, it sounds like you need to sit down with your editor/publisher/whoever and have a long talk. Find out if there's a manageable way for you to continue to work at the paper while improving your skills or if you need to go find a job at Applebee's.
  8. Mystery_Meat

    Mystery_Meat Guest

    First off, does she cite examples? There's a big difference between "you got Jackie Evans' name wrong in Tuesday's field hockey story" and "you're biased against our school". If she's rattling off specific problems, then that needs to be addressed. If she's staying vague with comments about how your stories rot and the other guy's are good, then there's not much TO address.

    Secondly, what did your editor say when you were given the letter? Did it come without comment, or does he/she agree with the author, or what? I'd be more concerned about the reaction of a boss who understands (I assume) the nature of your job and your specific circumstances against a mother who only sees the finished product and views it from a personal perspective.

    Lastly, no matter what, don't let a parent dictate to you whether you're worthy of the job or the profession. Even if they're right about everything they say, they rarely if ever understand what you do or what you have to do to do it. They aren't Pulitzer or state press committees, and they probably don't think about the process that produces what they're reading, and even if they did, they have a dog in the fight and no reason to be impartial in their assessment.

    You'll find that no matter what you do, you'll never make them happy. That's the nature of the beast. If you did your job flawlessly, you'd still get hit from people who want more. You can't satiate the beast. I've been at papers where we'd produce a double-digit count of high school stories every week, and THAT'S where I'd be hit with the most complaints, because they're ever wanting more (or their neighbor to have less). Unwinnable game. They aren't the majority of your readership. F 'em and move on. Worry about what the editor thinks. That's what determines whether you're pulling a check this time next month, not an angry parent.

    By the way, I'd be willing to bet that "group" of angry parents is one person, two tops. Was anyone else's name signed to the letter? If not, then chances are it's one pissed-off mother who wants to plump herself to ridiculous proportions by creating a "group" of people that she wants you to assume is real.
  9. Brain of J

    Brain of J Member

    They point to a few examples, but are quite broad too. Reading the letter, it sounded like my past article dictated everything I've done.
    This woman (I assume?) states "I went to look at the stats from last Friday's newspaper. They weren't even close to correct. How does a team shoot 22-8? Your writer has no clue."
    I probably did screw that one up. If people find stats so important I'm going to devote more time to the stats and less to the lede. I need to be 100 percent accurate with both. I can't make both my top priority though.
    My editor didn't say much about it.
    He rode me today without telling me about the letter, and in a way he had the right to, I was spelling names off of a email, when some of the names on the email were wrong.
    I'm learning. Thats the most important thing. But, all he said about the letter was "I don't want to ruin your weekend, and some of the edge was taken off because they didn't say who they were, but here you go."
    I'll chalk it up to experience, and work on improving.
    I'm just afraid these parents aren't going to notice my improvements, I've lost their faith already. Guess that shouldn't matter. My editor wants to help, so I'll listen to him and work to get better.
  10. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Yeah, Brain. Get it right first. Make it fancy later.
  11. dawgpounddiehard

    dawgpounddiehard Active Member

    It sounds like you're a one-man show, young and still learning. I've been there, too. I had to take photos, lay out pages, write, take stats and balance quite a few area schools... not to mention work with morons and live in some God-forsaken small-ass Ohio town.

    It sucked.

    I made mistakes. I pissed off the locals. It happens. I did my best, learned as much as I could and moved on to a bigger and better job.

    Now, learn from this letter. Use it as motivation. Tonight, start with getting a great shot and making sure "22-8" doesn't make it into the paper. You'll get there... it takes time and there will be more of fuckups in the future. Hopefully small ones. But if you heed what your editor says and produce an accurate and solid ports page you'll feel much better about yourself in the near future.
  12. Cadet

    Cadet Guest


    Some things to make you feel better:

    1. This letter was anonymous? I'd file it in the round filing cabinet. The one that gets emptied every night. They either need to grow some cojones and sign their name, or you don't have to take it seriously.

    2. "A group of us" usually means Susie's parents and Jane's parents, who sit together at the basketball game. And I'm sure if you talked to the coach, you'd find out those are two of the most annoying sets of parents in the school. Never let anonymous letterwriters trick you into thinking they speak for the masses.

    3. Think about the "competitor" paper they reference. In my area, I run the BFE Press sports section by myself while Mid-Major Daily has eight times the circulation, a sports staff of six, real photographers and, you know, resources. People compare our two papers all the time, but it's really no comparison. The Daily covers BFE High only peripherally, and usually through phoners. When people compare me to the Daily, I remind them that the Daily is bigger, has more money, and is never at any BFE High games.

    4. I hope you realize that letter seems to hit every cliche in the book.

    5. Your editor and publisher (if involved) have a responsibility toward you. Take this letter to them, ask them what they think. If they agree with the letterwriter, then it's on them to help you improve. Maybe hiring a stringer isn't in the cards, but they should pay to send you to a photo class. They should help you improve your writing. They need to step up and be managers. Or, if they don't agree, then you've got that positive reinforcement from the people who know what they're doing in this business.

    6. If you need help understanding stats and how to use them in stories, don't be afraid to ask for help. Find a sportswriting mentor. If you were a college journalism major, see if an old professor has a contact. Or, if there's a university in the area, find an SID who would be willing to show you a few things. SIDs are total stat geeks. I would advise not going directly to the coaches of the teams you cover, because that could damage your credibility.

    We've all been though this. We will all go through this again. It doesn't suck any less the more it happens, but it helps when you have some perspective on it.

    As others have said, don't let this get to you, but use it as motivation.
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