Oh, the words people say now,
Every night and every day now.
Doesn’t matter what they say,
Just as long as they do say.
My apologies to the late songwriter-singer Joe South, who died of a heart attack in 2012, for paraphrasing the opening lyrics to one of his famous hits, “Games People Play,” but changing the words just a little bit fits right in with how those of us who write news and opinions for a living feel about reader reactions.
Says friend Dan Casey in The Roanoke Times:
The point is, readers, you want to be as vivid as possible when you criticize me. Call me “a jabbering dupe who climbed from an open sewer,” or argue my writing “stinks like a blazing tannery.”
Use your imagination. Draw a picture, touch the senses. Put those words together with verve. I’ll appreciate it a lot more.
Dan, in a column Monday, reprinted parts of a 1,177-word rant from reader Marah Kilby to the editor of the Times over a column he wrote about a scooter driver arrested for driving the wrong way on Virginia 419 in Roanoke County.
Kirby called Casey “low life scum” and suggested that “unless you are a criminal and engage in illegal activities, why would you write something like that?”
Dan correctly pointed out that inspiring strong reader reactions is one of the reasons he writes like he does. It’s his job to engage readers and he’s very good at his job.
In the interest of disclosure, readers here should be aware that he is a friend and wrote more than once about my fight for life following a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 2012. He have lunch from time and time and talk about the business and things that happen in the world, Washington, and Southwestern Virginia.
Kilby, he points out, is a friend of the police officer who arrested 52-year-old Larry Dobson, a disabled man busted for driving his scooter the wrong way on Electric Road (Virginia 419).
“She valiantly defended the cop, criticized me as biased and suggested I’m stupid and untalented too,” Casey wrote.
The coup de grace was when Kilby called me “low life scum.” When I got to that point I broke down and wept.
Just kidding! Actually, I enjoyed reading her email. Thank you for sending it, Ms. Kilby. Allow me to explain.
One of the interesting truths about reader feedback is it mostly doesn’t matter whether it’s positive or negative. The important thing is that it happens. It tells a writer there are readers who care.
Dan’s right. I wrote a weekly column for The Roanoke Times in the late 1960s. It was aimed at younger readers of the paper and some of the topics I covered, including abortion — illegal at the time — teenage sex, hookers in the Market area brought strong reactions from readers. Several years of columns for The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, brought the same result.
Today, reader reactions come in through the comments sections of Blue Ridge Muse or often show up on Facebook over something I’ve written.
In his column Monday, Casey suggested Kilby’s long rant — which contained 30 percent more words than his original column on the subject was, while passionate, lacking in originality. He noted other reader comments like “reading my column was like having a ‘habanero enema administered with a 40-foot long barbed wire-wrapped hose.’ ”
“That’s where Kilby’s criticism falls a bit short, in the universe of denunciations” he added. ” ‘garbage’ and “trash’ and ‘low life scum’ are dull and hackneyed. ‘Disgrace to the community’ is a cliche.”
Yes, but reader reaction of any kind is a blessing. It means people are, at least, paying attention.
Like Casey, I have been called many names over the years but one of the best reader comments I ever received came while writing in Illinois.
“I disagree with virtually every thing you say,” one reader wrote, “but I love the way you say it.”