Ours is a business lined with hazards mostly metaphorical. Among these is being fed what we serve. Dispensing criticism on these pages subjects us to it, not that the reality of these circumstances is discernible in the modern hour. Opinions are like that singular aperture that everyone possesses, and now, every aperture has a social media platform from which to sound. Newspapers are a particularly sure thing to set the spiders barking.
This was evident among the responses to my urging last week that we be given hell when we deserve it, the qualification in that sentence sailing unimpeded through the emptiness between the ears of some of those who quoted that line and then triumphantly declared the mission accomplished.
One cited the “made-up” prescription opioid crisis. Another blamed us for West Virginia’s population decline. That writer quoted Stephen King, spurring to mind “Word Processor of the Gods,” his delightfully diabolical short story written for a 1983 edition of Playboy. A middle-aged writer ekes out an existence, hounded mercilessly by a hulking shrew of a wife and relentlessly sniped at by an incorrigible teenage son. Then he discovers a word processor among a dead nephew’s effects. The device offers the power to end the existence of people by use of the delete button. What glorious power that!
God help us, someone seems to have taken over the damn machine to delete our subscribers.
Certainly now, at this precise moment, someone somewhere in the backwoods of his own infertile mind is pawing a keyboard to explain how we did that to ourselves. A likely suspect has read one of this company’s newspapers since the late 1960s — so many owners ago; regardless, thank you, sir, for staying with us. “Never, not once,” this tirelessly loyal reader declares, “can I recall anything ‘emanating’ from the paper which would be considered a good idea by most folks with a scintilla of common sense.”
This represents an extraordinary period of futility, a perfect imperfection, that surely must be worth something, such as, apparently, readership for a half-century. Even the godawful Pittsburgh Pirates, the team with which my grandfather cursed me, have won two pennants in that span, albeit not for 42 mostly miserable years, flirtations with competency occurring at intervals roughly matching that of the arrival of periodical cicadas. Memo to self: Never let a newspaper owner buy your baseball team.
One would think a Pirates fan of 47 long, hard years would know the answer to this question, and so, perhaps, I ask myself as much as him: Why stick around so long with little or nothing to show for it? An editor suggests an answer. Maybe he’s just waiting for it to finally happen. You wouldn’t want to read all those years and miss it when we at last have that one good idea.
Of course, you will not find it here. Ask any reporter. Editors are the last to have good ideas.
A reporter’s joke goes like this: An editor and a reporter are staggering through a desert, the sweat pouring, the sun bearing cruelly down upon them. They stumble upon an oasis marked by towering palm trees and a shimmering lake. The reporter dashes to the water, scooping handfuls into his mouth and splashing the coolness across his face. He gazes across the lake, searching for his editor and espies him standing on the other side. The reporter races there only to discover as he approaches that the editor is relieving himself in the clear, clean water. Incredulous, the reporter demands that the editor explain what in the hell he’s doing.
“I’m making it better,” the editor replies.
Despite our unblemished record of imbecility, I’ll venture an idea for my friend out there in the cold, dark cyberworld and for others like him, fond of rattling off our flaws and others’, for those so sure they know the cure for what ails us (if it’s not bourbon, I’m not buying). My idea is this: If you know how to make things better, start with your corner of this wayward world. Do not restrain your wisdom, but unleash it in the form of action.
Take those good ideas of yours, you and all those folks with the scintillas of common sense, and carry them out in your own spheres. We have plenty of talkers. The words on this page are a case in point. Doers are in short supply.
Humanity drifts in the void that action from your ideas might fill. So get to it. Otherwise, you’re just another old spider barking.