Walking to our office in Whalers Wharf the other day, I passed by a busker outside Marine Specialties playing the guitar and singing an old Beatles song: “What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?”
As so often happens with John Lennon’s and Paul McCartney’s lyrics, a new shade of meaning was suddenly revealed. I had always thought of that song as an affectionate gift to Ringo Starr, whose grip on intonation was less than secure but who in this case sang the lead vocal beautifully — with a little help from his friends.
There on Commercial Street I thought about how often we find ourselves writing articles in the Independent that make some readers angry with us because they feel our coverage was unfair or struck a wrong note — or because we shouldn’t be writing about that subject at all. It’s the journalistic equivalent of singing out of tune. Sometimes those readers walk out on us by canceling their subscriptions or their businesses’ advertising contracts.
Our news stories and opinion pieces about Wellfleet’s accounting troubles over the past two years were not well received at town hall and occasionally provoked angry rebukes from members of town boards. Representatives of the state Dept. of Revenue, which delivered its own critique of the town’s operations, added that “the press,” by which I think they mean the Indie, had made things look awfully bad.
Nauset Regional School Supt. Brooke Clenchy wasn’t happy with our report on anti-Semitic bullying at the high school last month. She sent out a message to parents saying how disappointed she was in “a newspaper article” about the events and the resulting federal investigation. She didn’t name the newspaper.
Our coverage of arguments over affordable housing in Truro has made people there mad, and I think there are some in Provincetown who still haven’t forgiven us for revealing a plan to bring Cirque du Soleil to Motta Field.
It’s impossible to publish a newspaper without making somebody mad. And we do make mistakes. More important, I think, is that we’ll never figure out how to do things better if we don’t examine our failures. Doing that is hard. No one likes to have his mistakes aired in public.
A few weeks ago, I invited readers to apply for the position of public editor — the aggrieved reader’s representative. I’m delighted to announce that Dan Okrent of Wellfleet and New York City has accepted. Dan is a prize-winning writer, a tenacious researcher, and a trenchant critic. He knows the job: he was the New York Times’s first public editor. We have often asked his advice about newspapering, and he has always said exactly what he thought and why. He is the best kind of friend — one who will tell you when you are making a mistake.
Write to him at [email protected]. His independent opinions on our performance as a newspaper will appear in these pages.