Editors and writers, of which I am both, learn quickly that not all readers have the same opinion of our work. This is most obvious when we receive very different feedback to the same article or column.
Immediately following the release of the September issue of Baptists Today, an email hit my inbox from a displeased reader in Tennessee. He had “endured” the cover story about the influence of Southern Baptist bloggers on denominational life in which I had used “valuable space to condemn the Southern Baptist Convention.”
He asked that his subscription be discontinued. Of course, I honored his request though his criticism — in this instance — seemed unjustified. In my defense, the article was about loyal Southern Baptists trying to reform their convention. It was not about criticism from the outside.
However, if criticism of fundamentalism is unacceptable, then this was one subscription we were bound to lose at some point. The stranglehold this narrow, exclusive, judgmental approach to religion has put on some Baptist groups and others deserves all the challenge most of us can muster — something I do on occasion in my editorial writing.
But I confess to feeling some disappointment with the email because, deep inside, we all like affirmation over rejection.
My spirits rose later in the day, however, when an email from a respected theology professor affirmed the article as being very insightful and helpful. Others came as well that expressed appreciation for the story that I had worked on at various times throughout the summer.
The point here is not whether that one particular article — or any other — was well written, relevant or of value to readers. Rather these responses are reminders that we all view the world and everything in it through different lens. We look at the very same things, yet we see very different things.
Therefore, it is not surprising that one article would yield more than one opinion. Through years of putting my words into print, I have learned these two lessons among many.
First, it is hard to predict what will draw the most reaction from readers. I have written on topics widely considered controversial and anticipated strong feedback that never came.
On the other hand, I’ve done seemingly light, tongue-in-cheek commentaries that brought out venomous pens. You don’t always know what touches someone’s hot button.
Second, it is impossible to write something that is appreciated by everyone. In an interview with Ebony magazine 30 years ago, Bill Cosby was asked about the key to success.
He responded that he did not know the key to success, but that the key to failure is trying to please everyone.
While pleasing everyone is an unattainable goal, my nature is to try. But the daily mail reminds me again and again that we all look through different filters and see different things even when viewing the same object.
In this recent case, there were at least two widely different opinions about the very same article. But the math is complicated to me.
Three out of four responses that day were positive. Yet there was a net loss of one subscriber. I’m still not sure how to take that.