How Dare You Make Us Think!

God Almighty, some days the world makes me tired:

Some of those who complained about the Ubiles story remained upset
about the seven-part series we published recently focusing on Poppy, a
homeless alcoholic on the streets of Albany’s South End.One writer
accused us of glorifying the life of someone who was “just a loafer.”

a certain level, I can understand those who are upset. There are enough
big problems in the world that deserve a newspaper’s attention — wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan, economic distress at home, the drive to make
health care more accessible and affordable — that you may wonder if
one or two individual lives warrant coverage at all.

But the concerns raised by readers go beyond the question of priorities.

story of Poppy, as most of our readers recognized, gave us a window
into the world of addiction on the streets. Through the deep reporting
of Paul Grondahl, we learned about the brain chemistry of addiction and
the challenges presented by each of the many and varied efforts to
combat homelessness that have been tried over the years. The cost to
society presented by the Poppys on our streets is huge, but averting
our eyes won’t make it go away.

Nor would it be appropriate for
the newspaper to shirk coverage of newsworthy individuals just because
some consider their behavior objectionable. Our role isn’t to make
judgments about society’s standards; it is to reflect reality.

Emphasis mine. Because. I just. Look, as the editor so admirably points out, the job of the newspaper isn’t to make you happy, it’s to tell you what you need to know. So sorry if the news of homeless drug addicts upsets you. GO VOLUNTEER AT A HOMELESS SHELTER. That’s how you get over your feelings of guilt and inadequacy, not by writing an angry letter asking the paper not to remind you that Dirty Hippie Jesus was right and the poor are in fact always with your oblivious ass.

I once wrote a story, around this time of year (because it’s always this time of year that editors want food bank stories), that wasn’t all that great, I mean, it was a throwaway piece about what the local food bank did and here’s how you could give money or food to it. And I’ll never forget this e-mail I got from a reader about it. Like I said, it was the same story we always do. But she had, I don’t know, for whatever reason, been struck by it and said something I’ll never forget. “I’m just one person. What can I do?”

I think we feel that way a lot, especially during the supposed season of charity bearing down on us. I’ve only got ten bucks, what can I do? I’ve only got an hour a week, what can I do? I’m only good at one or two things really, what can I do? I’m housebound, I’m moving, I’m old, I’m young, I’m busy, I’m overwhelmed, I’m tired, I feel weak and helpless and useless and the only thing that ever really makes the news is the grand gesture anyway. What can I do?

Like it’s worthless if you can only write one letter. Like it’s worthless if you can’t give a million. Like it’s worthless if you can’t be there every hour of every day. The point isn’t to do all the work, is what I told her (hoping to God it’s true, since this is at least as much about my own justifications as about hers). The point is to do what you can. That may not exorcise your guilt completely. I think we all feel like we’re not doing enough no matter how much we’re doing. I know I watch too much goddamn TV. But if you take the time you could spend beating yourself up about how you suck and put that to work against the thing making you feel inadequate, well, that’s better, isn’t it?

Or you could just sit back and ask the paper to please stop making you feel like a selfish jackass.

Via Romenesko.


7 thoughts on “How Dare You Make Us Think!

  1. I remember reading a quote from a Fire Chief in NYC, “If your job is to be the can man, be the can man.” The can man carries water. One of my favorite moments in politics came from a losing candidate for CT Governor, Bill Curry. He said in conceding “Look ahead. You are not required to complete the task; neither are you permitted to lay it down.” That’s pretty much what I got from A’s Battlestar Galactica posts. Even if you don’t know how, you have to keep on.

  2. Today is my 6th anniversary at my job…it didn’t make the calendar ’cause the office secretary looked at the wrong calendar when making our publishable one. No worries. However, as our ‘anniversary’ treat we get to pick something edible to have to celebrate. Typically the celebrant chooses fancy cupcakes, or cakes or something savory. This is my second year to pick something for my anniversary (we only started this trad in 07) and like last year, I have opted to have the company donate the money (that would have been spent on some lush, caloric treat) to the Houston Food Bank. Afterall, it’s the holidaze-season and times are not so fantastic for others (goodness knows I feel like I’m day to day at my job), so why not? Plus, tomorrow is our pre-Holiday potluck luncheon – so it’s not like we don’t have food coming down the pike (and our office provides a stocked kitchen for our food needs for b’fast/lunch/snacks). A couple of weeks back when I mentioned that my ann. was coming up, a co-worker started to Pavlov and asked what I was going to get. When I told her of the donation (get this…)!!! Seriously…she was angry, like I told her her account was no good. I’m donating my treat money to make sure other folks have FOOD, and she’s mad as a wet hen…’cause she won’t be stuffing her allegedly xtian self w/something she’ll lament later for having overfilled. I am thankful to have a pantry full at home, to have a home, to have a job. And this cow (and any others that find out) has the unmitigated gall to get snippy because I’m making sure others get real food. Might christian of ya’… I would have thought my choice last year would have inspired others to do similar or pick diff charity…but no. Just me.
    Here’s hoping I still get to keep coming in to work for my paycheck until I decide to leave!

  3. Couldn’t agree more that a lot of news seems driven by people wanting to be entertained and not edjumacated.
    2 things that are strong memories for me. One, can I suggest the book by Robert Belah(?sp), The Good Society. It goes a lot into being a good in a not so good world.
    The other is when Mother Theresa wanted to open a mission in Washington, DC. It went to a Congressional meeting and one of the Congress critters was giving her a lot of grief asking her how she expected to have any effect when the magnitude of need was so great in DC (yeah, he seemed both dumb enough to attack Mother T. and dumb enough not to realize that he was indirectly implicating himself). She raised her bony little finger to him and said, “One at a time.”

  4. Or, never mind even caring, but perish forbid anything should make anyoneuncomfortable. Scratch someone who yells about loafers and welfare slackers and so on, find someone who’s really insecure about their social and economic position (and/or someone who had an alcoholic parent and dreads winding up like them).
    I still remember cutting a guy like that off at the knees, when he insisted that because I was on welfare at the time, I must think the “world owed me a living” (no, but a civilised culture damn well owes its every member a subsistence at least!), and why didn’t I just get a job? I asked him why didn’the give me a job, since he’d just been bragging about what a successful businessman he was, surely he must be able to hire me forsomething, and I started rattling off my credentials and skills. Mercy me, you never saw so much backing and filling in your life, not even if you lived right next door to the Big Dig. I think heparticularly didn’t like that he’d been out-argued by a person half his age or so. I think I was 23 at the time…

  5. Hey, That’s from my hometown paper! The series on Poppy was really good journalism, a seven-day intensive look at homelessness, especially among the hardest to find help for.

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