I Wanted to Hear Some Complaints

Complaints? Really? Really.

“This is an experiment,” I wrote in last week’s Premium issue, “but if you have a complaint about This is True, I want to hear it. I’ve set up a special mailbox for you to send your irritations, bothers, and quarrels about True as a service. I’ll read every one, but won’t reply to anything unless you ask me to — so no arguments, justifications, explanations or defensiveness, should you be worried about that, but I’ll respond to your comments in next week’s issue.

“Why? Because readers have been remarkably silent about True lately (even when I occasionally say something intended to ruffle feathers!), and quite frankly that has me intrigued. Surely not everyone is perfectly happy?! So fire up your email, warm up your fingers, and let it go. I’m not inviting flames — I’m interested in ideas, not ranting. Thanks!”

The Silence (mostly) Continued

Only 37 messages came into the special address, and the vast majority didn’t actually have a complaint in them. E.g., Ken in California said “Perhaps people aren’t complaining because you put out a quality product. Free distribution to 169 countries and paid distribution in 36 speaks volumes. I’m proud to have my paid subscription.”

Dennis in Southern California put the subject “I didn’t get a harumph outa that guy” on his, which got a big laugh out of me — it’s a Blazing Saddles reference, one of my favorite movies since it’s so very, very anti-“Politically Correct”.

He took tongue-in-cheek issue with my solicitation, advising “This is the millennium!! How can you keep your victim status if you solicit complaints? Your approach should be: ‘I’m doing the best I can…you have to respect my personhood…and care about me’.” — i.e., he didn’t really have a complaint either, though I enjoyed the message.

But there were, in fact, a few actual complaints. Several called for more stories. OK: sometimes I have an extra story that I write, but pull out because I don’t think it’s good enough. It’s replaced with a new one, but I don’t throw away the pulled stories; they are set aside, revisited later and, if not thrown away after due consideration and/or rework, they go into the book for that year when it’s published. And there are more weird headlines than I could ever use at the rate of one per week, so there’s a big section of those in the books too. So I will try to add some of those to the Premium edition, or even occasionally do special Premium-only issues with those extra stories after I revisit them.

But There Was One Strong Suggestion

By far the most-heard complaint: the Free edition subscribers get the “Honorary Unsubscribe” before the Premium subscribers do. I did eventually change that.

The most interesting complaint came from Paul in California (you West Coasters seem to have extra time to write!): “Why Tuesday? It seems like an odd day to get ThisIsTrue. Wednesday seems better in my mind.”

Well, the issues are written on Sundays (the date on them is real, in other words!) I don’t want to send Premium out on Sundays since I don’t want to stuff too much into that day, so on Mondays I write text like this, research and write the Honorary Unsubscribe, do the formatting, etc., and send it out Monday night, which means some readers don’t find it until Tuesday.

The idea is to make sure you get it as quickly as possible without my working a 14-hour day (True takes from four to nine hours to write, depending on how it goes and the “quality” of the news in the previous week or two). So to hold the Premium edition until Wednesday would just be an artificial delay.

Then, There’s Religion

Pete, who is also in California, writes, “I understand that you poke fun pretty even-handedly at everyone. I do not think that I have thin skin, however, I get an impression from your column that you dislike devout christians, [though] this is only an impression.”

I’m sorry you get that impression, Pete. I can say that if it were true, I wouldn’t have a pastor on my staff. And not some guy with a mail-ordered divinity certificate, but a theology-school-graduated minister with a church in upstate New York. He reads every issue and, if I have a religious question, he’s the one who gets it; he also gives feedback on many religion-based stories (whether I ask for them or not!), and I don’t recall him ever suggesting that I had gone too far.

“He” is The Rev. Rus Jeffrey, and you are free to send him questions or comments at [address deleted for web posting] (and boy will he be surprised when he reads this!)

While I don’t dislike the devout, I do dislike the hypocrites; in American society, you see them most prominently in two places: politics and what I’ll call “Performance Religion” — not so much in preachers in the church on the corner, but those who choose to be publicity-seeking moralists. (You of course see such people pursuing both paths, such as Pat Robertson, who wants to be a minister and a politician).

When they demand people do one thing and they do the opposite — and get caught — I’m happy to point at them and laugh. So I don’t condemn religion; I condemn those who preach the gospel (Bible- or voter-inspired), but at the same time refuse to live by it.

Wait… What?

The most surprising complaint was from Randi, yet again a Californian: “Please discontinue your extra comment at the end of each news report. The comment is unnecessary and distracts from the actual news piece.”

With 160,000 subscribers online, plus about a million readers in print, I indeed have heard this before — but only about once every three months, versus hundreds and hundreds of letters from people saying it’s the best part.

True is just one of several “weird news” columns syndicated to newspapers and magazines, and is the only one with commentary on every story; it is, indeed, the way I’ve chosen to stand apart from the competition.

Further, True is more than a simple news reporting column — it’s also meant as commentary upon the news and, by extension, the human condition. Removing the comments just makes it like all the rest of the similar columns, and forces me to mute my opinion; what’s the point in that?

Do I think everyone will find every single comment humorous and/or entertaining? Of course not — no one can please everyone all the time. But then, they aren’t all meant to be humorous! They are intended to be humorous, ironic, or opinionated — with luck, two or three of those.

Am I successful in this? If you care for the educated, unsolicited opinions of about a hundred newspaper, magazine, radio and television commentators from all over the world, the answer is very clearly “yes.” I suggest, then, that if you can’t stand the commentary, you should consider either reading the competition (I find “News of the Weird” by Chuck Shepherd the best — Chuck’s writing style is similar to my own, perhaps even more terse, but without commentary — and boy will he be surprised when he reads this — he’s a Premium subscriber himself!), or skipping the comments entirely — none of this is required reading!

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Still want to complain? You’re welcome to write me. But as I said in 1999, “I’m not inviting flames — I’m interested in ideas, not ranting. Thanks!”

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