Fourteen years ago, when I was a staff reporter at the Johnson County (Kansas) Business Times, I remember my then-editor, Rebeeca Shelton, delivering to me a piece of advice: “Develop a thick skin.”
The advice was provided after I received an angry voicemail from a company, irate that it did not make one of our top lists. I shuddered at the thought of returning the call and asked Rebecca if she could field it instead.
She did, and I remember listening to her handle the caller. She was brilliant. That call ended with a coffee date with the business owner. It turned out he was a good story. He scored a feature, and we scored a brand ambassador.
Months later, I was named managing editor of the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, and I took Rebecca’s adv-ice with me. I interpreted her words this way: An adversary can easily turn into an ally. Make the effort. But if you don’t succeed, toughen up, and don’t let it bother you. Move on — fast. The sun will come up tomorrow.
Over a decade ago, I don’t think I fully grasped how important a thick skin really is. Today, as editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times, I do.
Let me give you an example:
“The caption is … unconscionable.
… I know many people who, along with me, blame … you, Maayan.”
Here’s another one:
“The content [of the JT] has gotten terrible. It gets worse and worse by the minute.”
To some, I’m too liberal.
To others, closed-minded.
Some readers want only local news. Others want to know why we don’t have more on international politics.
I am not going to say that I don’t shudder every time I hear that someone is unhappy with the JT. It’s my fifth child — and the child I’m with more than my other four. But I try not to be a defensive mother.
Before I pass judgment on the critic or shrug his or her words off as blah blah blah, I am interested in learning from him or her what’s actually going on. Sometimes, I’m right. Sometimes, the reader is right. Sometimes we learn from one another. No matter what, it is food for thought and can encourage me to push the envelope or look at a topic or part of the paper in a different way.
I try to put it into perspective, too. I get roughly 700 emails per day during the work week and another 250 per day on the weekend. That’s 1,200 emails per week, 4,800 per month. So if one email a month is shudder material, I’m doing OK.
There is also some advice my parents gave me: The secret of winning is putting in the extra energy to work harder, to try again, to try another way.
To me, winning doesn’t mean being perfect (or even being the best), it means giving the most — more than 100 percent — to everything you do, and knowing that you can’t change others, you can only change yourself.
So keep those letters to the editor and those emails coming. Phone calls are OK, too. However, please remember, I am a person, so if you have criticism, make it constructive. Name calling is so first grade.