A friend from high school days told me the other day that he enjoys reading what I write in The Polk County Democrat , but offered an unusual recommendation for improvement.
He said I should be meaner, or at least grouchier.
In retirement, out of which I come twice a week to perform the limited duties vested in me by an impressive-sounding title of Editorial Page Editor, I should exercise one of the privileges of advancing age, and be more blunt, he said.
“You should kick some keister,” or some such word, he declared.
To keep things in perspective, this counsel came from one of the nicest guys I know, a gentleman of Old South.
I listen to advice from all readers, and have considered his at length.
Actually, I am a little feistier than I was during much of my career, and I could give you the names of at least a couple of people who would agree. But apparently the difference is too subtle to attract much notice.
First, a brief job description.
After 42-plus years of being in charge of part or all of the operations of our four newspapers, I made the decision to retire. Mary and I sold the company to Sun Coast Media Group, and we remained on under three-year management contracts.
Upon retirement as publisher at the end of 2009, I was invited to continue writing my twice-weekly column. I welcomed the opportunity.
At the first of this year, Jim Gouvellis, my successor and boss, asked if I would agree to write one editorial and one column a week instead of two columns, taking on the aforesaid title of editorial page editor.
The purpose was to give the paper a stronger editorial voice on local issues. I was glad to do so.
To non-journalists, the distinction between a column and an editorial may not be that clear, and in fact, the line is sort of vague at a lot of papers.
A column is purely the work of the columnist, its tone varying from humorous to philosophical to sentimental to angry, depending on the columnist’s mood on any given day.
I tend to gravitate toward humorous.
Editorials, on the other hand, tend to be more thoughtful and more serious, and they reflect the opinion of the newspaper’s management. When there is keister to be kicked, it customarily is kicked in an editorial, not a column.
Given this corporate identity, my editorials are reviewed by an editorial board which has members both in Polk County and at Sun Coast Media Group papers in Venice and Port Charlotte, including the two principal owners. No keister is assaulted without their consent.
My editorials are published on Wednesday, and my columns on Saturday.
As to kicking keister, non-violent criticism is my preference.
The written word tends to come across more harshly than the spoken word; you might want to remember that when tempted to write an angry letter.
A verbal blast can be delivered with a smile or a kind voice; writing doesn’t work that way.
I like the guidance of another of my bosses, David Dunn-Rankin, president of Sun Coast Media Group:
“When we criticize somebody, we like to do so in such a way that we can sit down and have a cup of coffee with him the next morning.”
Given the price of coffee these days, that’s a good standard.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He doesn’t really consider writing an editorial and a column a week to constitute coming out of retirement. He has found few people who agree with him on that point.)