For folks at the Press, the cliché "'Tis the season to be jolly" is laced with irony. The holiday season is the ideal plank from which to launch a nasty attitude.
It's especially true after Thanksgiving has had its way with us. It's almost as if, having battled the murderous masses on Black Friday, people are looking for any reason to take out pent-up aggression on a hapless bystander. An error in a story, a photo blurred by a press that didn't hold its register, or a missed delivery are grist for the mill. Granted, a missed paper is just cause for a tongue-lashing. But before people barge into the office, call, email, or post a comment on social media indicating we have made a grievous typo, they should be sure a mistake was actually made.
A few years ago, while reporting on earthquakes occurring during the holidays, we tried to avoid redundancy by sometimes using the word "temblor." But one reader thought he'd caught us in a gaffe, assuming we'd left out the "r" in "tremblor." It's likely several readers suspected a goof, but this fellow was the only one with the stones to let us know, in a website post, that our stupidity knew no bounds. The reader assured us that proofreading is "totally worth it," and suggested we try it. He allowed that the "r" on a keyboard might have run amok, in which case he understood the omission; most likely we couldn't afford new keyboards, he said, "much less competent writers." It did dawn on the guy he might be wrong, but the sun didn't rise until he'd hit the "send" button for his comment, so he posted another missive, apologizing and admitting a quick "google" had settled the issue in our favor: "I should not speak before I know what I am talking about, but in my defense, I am from Oklahoma also." OK, I get that. A couple of years later, another man questioned our editorial on a report by former Sen. Tom Coburn that suggested many ultra-wealthy Americans are white-collar criminals. The man thought we were "makin' Coburn look lack a lib'ral," although the report was on Coburn's own website. The caller suspected we "hacked" the website and rearranged the data to suit our purpose. "Printin' all them lies, it's a-wunder nunna ya'll's been kilt down-nar, or at least beat up," the caller marveled, sounding annoyed but not enraged. In recent years, more than a few have suggested they'd like to commit an assault - though behind the safety of their computer screens.
Though verbal vituperation and threats of violence come year-round, they escalate this time of year. And given the drumbeat of "fake news" lately, I expect it to get worse before it gets better. The most common threat used to be, "I'm gonna sue!" Now, "You're gonna get what's coming to you" is the rage, along with attacks on ethics, appearance, or sexuality. Blowback from readers is an inherent part of this business. More unexpected is the attitude of folks trying to get jobs. Through conversation with other bosses, I've learned it's not just us, either. Whether it's the holidays, the economy or a combination, some job-seekers have a stronger sense of entitlement than a "welfare deadbeat," and if you reject them, they may unleash a stream of obscenities that would do a sailor proud.
When we have an opening in the newsroom, I always get applications from people who not only have no newspaper experience, they've done no writing other than composing their resumes. Some adopt an aggressive posture when I explain how it works. I tell them I can't hand someone with absolutely no training or experience a pen and pad, point him to a city council meeting, and say, "Go for it, and you'll have 30 minutes after the meeting's end to get me a story written in journalism format. You'd better not misquote anybody or misspell any names." That would be irrational on my part.
A few years ago, when I was unfortunate enough to have an opening during the holiday season, an applicant wrote: "I am as god as nayone else in you're newsroom althogh my main work has been in the food servise industry." Another woman said her priority would have to be her kids (understandable), and added she would need to be gone a couple of days a week, because one was always sick, and she thought she should get "sick pay" for those days. Another gal dropped the f-bomb when I declined to interview her, saying I thought I was "better" than her. Several folks called about the pay, and scoffed at it. A guy who described himself as "in my later years and with a number of age-related problems" told me, "I have to insist you schedule me for an interview next week." He had no experience, either, other than "the tribulations brought by a number of years on this planet of ours."
To ward off seasonal angst unrelated to overindulging at the dinner table and trying to fulfill requests from friends and co-workers for a batch of my famous candy, I have a suggestion. If you want to prescribe a dose of verbal vitriol, bypass the newspaper staffer, potential employer, grocery checker, car salesman or fellow shopper, and call a member of the U.S. Congress, and give him a piece of your mind. It will be a challenge to fit you into a calendar packed with manicures, six-figure shopping sprees, weekend jaunts to warmer climes, and wrestling matches with the faulty zippers that accompany the pants of most politicians. And lately, impeachment proceedings. You might have to settle for a nasty email or letter, but if it relieves your holiday stress, go for it. After all, you're paying the guy's salary.