We suspect the same claim can be made by any newspaper that publishes these Editorial Page submissions, whether they are produced locally or selected by editors from a syndicated service.
Either can draw the ire of offended readers. Both do.
Over the years, our readers have voiced displeasure over content, perceived fairness and placement of news stories; the lean of opinion pieces like editorials and personal columns; writing style and selection of features; general sports coverage and perceptions of biased reporting; the legibility of our daily TV listings and crossword puzzles; and sometimes even the occasional theme of a comic strip.
Sometimes public feedback is based on philosophical differences with a material’s message. Sometimes it is targeted more toward our newspaper’s alleged political preferences. And other times it is a matter of ill-advised timing.
The latter was the case involving an editorial cartoon that was published in Monday’s edition, only two days before the most sacred of Christian holidays — Christmas.
Selected from a syndicated service to which we subscribe, the cartoon negatively targeted the NRA and made reference to a number of killings or accidents involving guns. The cartoon was even headlined by its artist, “NRA Christmas Advent Calendar.”
Although the message was a typical cartoonist’s sarcastic approach to a serious matter — a habit that often disturbs our own editors — it wasn’t only the content on this occasion but also the timing that drew the wrath of at least one Cleveland Daily Banner reader.
We suspect it inflamed others as well.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, as our staff was putting the finishing touches on our annual Christmas edition, we were paid a visit from a retired police officer who tasked our decision to publish the opinionated cartoon the day before. He told us his sentiment was shared by others.
We have no reason to doubt his sincerity. He is a good man. In his years of law enforcement, he served the Cleveland and Bradley County community well.
Whether he is an NRA member or a proponent of guns rights is not the issue. Whether he supported the cartoon’s stand or vehemently opposed it is not the issue. Whether he was a former law enforcement professional who gave years of service protecting others or just an average man in the community trying to make an honest living is not the issue.
What is the issue is the editorial cartoon’s timing.
It was published so close to the most sacred of Christian holidays that it touched a sensitive nerve of at least one man who wanted something better of his hometown community newspaper.
After further reviewing the cartoon’s message, even the editor in charge of its placement admits in hindsight that it was a poor selection — not necessarily because of its content, but because of its timing.
Such is the nature of newspaper work. Such is the accountability required in meeting tight, day-to-day deadlines and so many of them. Some days we make good decisions. Other days we don’t. Most are made under pressure. Few enjoy the luxury of time and calculation.
In the eyes of our readers, these may appear as little more than excuses. But in the eyes of a daily newspaper — ours included — they perhaps help readers to better understand the internal decision-making process.
Regardless, Monday was the steppingstone into Christmas, a time when families were preparing to embrace the holiday and rejoice in its message of hope.
Plagues of this world like violence, crime, war, disaster and devastation will befall mankind until this life comes to its inevitable end. But the presence of such calamity does not mean our readers must be overwhelmed by it daily — and especially not as a prelude to a celebration of The Greatest Story Ever Told.
As we have said, editorial cartoons can do good when they give cause to mindful thought. But they can do bad when their timing is ill-advised.
Monday’s cartoon did both. It created thought, but it did so in a disrespectful fashion by coming on an improper day.
For this, we apologize to those we offended.
It was not the first time an editorial cartoon has miffed one or more readers. It will not be the last.
But it does serve as a lesson learned, one we believe will be remembered for years to come.