Connecting With MW Readers
Wednesday - July 22, 2009
MidWeek ... it’s all about the connection.
I was in broadcast news for two decades and I learned a thing or two about connecting with viewers. Television is a hot medium, the impact is immediate, visceral - and in many ways superficial. You tell stories that you know are important, you show pictures that speak louder than words.
But often the feedback you get is ... How shall I say it? ... Startling. You could be relaying a story about an earthquake-devastated village or your entire newscast can revolve around a momentous event, and someone will call right after the broadcast and ask where you got your earrings or who cuts your hair.
I’m not knocking TV viewers. I loved them and appreciated their input, and of course I got a lot of meaningful feedback as well.
It’s just that television is all about the visuals, and I was part of that for so long it was like breathing to me. I felt I’d developed a relationship with viewers, but I was fully aware that it was a relationship partly based on an illusion - that familiarity equals intimacy. People think they know you, but what they are reacting to is the made-up, coiffed, professionally dressed image you present to them for a few minutes every day.
Well, there are no such illusions in print. Not for me, anyway.
What you read is what you get. And I’ve learned that what people want is a little bit more of you than they had before.
MidWeek asked me to join its group of writers in 2001. (Wow! Has it been that long?) I was flattered and a little surprised - and
also pleased. Before getting into television news, my ambition had been to be a print reporter. I tried to carry over the writing skills into broadcast and was, I thought, somewhat successful. But writing a full-length column after so many years of tossing off abbreviated pieces for a 30-minute newscast was a daunting proposition.
In hindsight, it’s not surprising I went a little bonkers with it. The first piece I submitted was epic - not epic as in great, mind you, but epic as in looooong. Way, way too long. I told the story of a young boy I’d met living with his family in a tent on the beach. If I were to tell that story today, I’d do it with half as many words. And it would be better.
As an anchor with a responsibility to be fair and impartial, I couldn’t really delve into opinion journalism in the beginning. I stuck to storytelling.
Only after leaving the newsroom did I dip my feet (very cautiously at first) into a different kind of column writing. The best columnists, the ones I like to read, have a point of view and are able to communicate it to the readers effectively and often quite colorfully. They either make you stop and think or elicit strong emotions. The best ones do both. You may agree or disagree, but you will have a reaction.
That’s a good thing. And since we’re talking about connections, I have to say the bond with our MidWeek readers is strong and deep. When you disagree, you let me know. When you agree, or when my words touch you in some way, you are effusive, eloquent and grateful. Truly, communication with you is a two-way street, and I love it.
You may have noticed I tend not to write about politics. There are reasons for that, and their names are Bob Jones, Dan Boylan and our other fine political opinionators. They are the experts, and much more effective in that role than I could ever be. I like having a different “voice.” I have to say, though, one of the few times I ventured into politics was during the presidential campaign when I wrote about Barack Obama. I liked him. A lot. And there are many, many of you who don’t. The e-mails poured in and ranged from the ugliest drek to the most sublime praise I have received in response to a single column.
Runners up in the nasty response category? Gay marriage (I’m for it), and the use of the word “haole” (I think it’s OK).
Most surprising response? I have to say it was the little throwaway rant I did (took me all of 10 minutes to write) on the nasty habit some men have of spitting in the street. Seems a lot of other folks, mainly women, hate that with a passion. And some men wanted to explain why they felt I should just butt out and let them spew their sputum wherever and whenever they pleased.
My personal favorite? I’ll let you know when I have one.
MidWeek started out as an ad rag, known at first more for the inserts than for the content. No one took it seriously. But as it grew and evolved, and as Don Chapman and Ron Nagasawa turned it into a force to be reckoned with, we all grew and evolved along with it.
Here’s to another 25 years.
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