In error, Governor, there are encouragements | Chroniclers
I bow to no one in my disdain for Governor Holcomb. After all, it is my duty as a political columnist to be a government watchdog, and as the head of the state executive, the governor must be prepared to take his share of criticism.
I can’t be sure how many negative columns I’ve written about it, but it must be north of half a dozen now. I feel like I can type “Governor Holcomb” in my sleep.
This is apparently what I did last week.
In a column on the importance of constitutions, I wrote down to the penultimate paragraph: “Governor Holcomb and the General Assembly are engaged in an epic battle over what should be the executive powers of the governor and how much control the legislature should have over its own actions.
At least that’s what my brain said I wrote. What my fingers actually found was “Governor Whitcomb and the General Assembly …”
Well, that blew up my email.
“Do you mean Governor Holcomb?” A reader asked politely and succinctly. “Leo, you are getting old,” said another. “Ed Whitcomb was governor in the sixties.” There was even an attempt at humor: “Was that autocorrect dadburn? asked a man. Only one reader responded to the flesh of the column and offered his view that the courts, no less than the governor and the legislature, are less than respectful of constitutional imperatives.
I draw two lessons from this.
The first is that no matter how trivial the errors are, readers will notice them and, more often than not, pounce on them, ignoring the point the writer was trying to convey. It is appalling but understandable. I was recently reading a novel in which it was said that a character was not “phase” by something, instead of the good “bewildered” one, and it pulled me out of the story I had happily been in. immersed.
But the other is that most of the people who come across my columns seem to read them to the end, which I like a lot more than I probably should.
Although I have strong feelings about the issues of the day and hesitate to express them forcefully, I am not naive enough to think that I am winning hearts and changing minds. I suspect that most people who read opinion columns these days do so either to reinforce their own views or to increase the contempt they feel for those with opposing views. Confirmation bias has become the default mode for Americans.
No, my least ambitious and, I think, healthiest goal is just to make sure my perspective on the issues is there, unambiguously stated and logically argued. If this team loses in the end, it won’t be because they weren’t clearly available.
So if readers want to know my full position, they have to get to the end of the columns, which gives me my goal: to make the writing interesting enough to see the ideas through to the end.
And that’s no easy task for someone trained in the “inverted pyramid” style of newspaper writing. As you may know, stories were meant to be written with the most important facts – who, what, when, where, why and how – crammed into the first two paragraphs.
There were two reasons for this. One was to allow editors, if faced with a lack of space, to cut stories from the bottom up, confident that nothing vital would be lost in the process. The other was to accommodate readers with a short attention span – the majority, alas – who would rarely read beyond the second paragraph.
Newspapers are in decline, but attention spans are even shorter and new media are springing up even more to compensate for them. Consumers of information are invited to throw themselves into the midst of complex issues, with no more sense of nuance or perspective than they used to be. We know more and more, and understand less and less.
So dragging someone to the end of a 600 or 700 word column is a major victory, and I’m happy to have proof that I accomplish it every now and then. Even at the cost of a blow to my reputation as a prudent writer.
Thank you for making me happy. I feel so much better now. I hope this is a permanent change, not just a setback that I am going through.