At their whim, blog readers come and blog readers go – that's the nature of all media. You can gauge how many visit your blog from whatever statistics package you use, together with the number of email and RSS subscriptions there are.
An email arrives to report when a reader unsubscribes. Here at TGB, there are usually one or two a week. I hardly notice them because over time readership increases. Sometimes subscribers tell you why they are unsubscribing by ticking an item on a list, but almost all choose “prefer not to say.”
That was true on Tuesday and Wednesday when a slew of unsubscribe notices arrived for Time Goes By and its companion blog, The Elder Storytelling Place. This time, however, some sent a separate email to tell me personally how offended they were to read a specific story on ESP, that they never knew I could be so inhumane and that they would never read ESP or TGB again. The word “cruel” came up a lot.
The story at issue, which you can read here, is by Johna Ferguson who has contributed many good stories to that blog. I especially like her dispatches from living in China for half of each year, but I was shocked when I first received this one, particularly that she expressed no sadness or remorse and appeared more concerned that her husband's wallet got soaked than about drowning puppies.
Over several days, I spent a lot of time weighing whether I should publish it. In the three-plus years ESP has existed, I have refused only two or three stories – for racism and misogyny, if I recall correctly. I asked a good friend for advice. I also wrote to Johna explaining that many would find the story objectionable and asked if she wanted to change or withdraw it. No, she said. She was willing to take the heat.
I tried writing an editorial warning note to place at the top of the story, but couldn't figure out what to say without convincing myself that I should not publish it.
That should have been the deciding clue, but even with my indecision and reservations, I scheduled the story for this past Tuesday partly because it was a Part 2 and many readers had expressed eagerness, on Part 1, to read it.
Although there are usually more comments on ESP stories, there were only two this time, resoundingly negative ones expressing what I was feeling. Then the deluge of unsubscribe notices began arriving along with those emails berating me for publishing it.
The best I can do to explain (to myself as well as you) why I published that story is that aside from bigotry of any kind or unnecessary foul language, I have published stories as they are written fixing only obvious typos, some punctuation and I often re-paragraph for ease of reading online. In thinking this over, I had tried comparing it to my television interview-producing years.
If there had ever been a reason to interview someone about drowning puppies (I can't imagine one, but this is an intellectual exercise so bear with me), an on-camera interviewer or I would have been there to ask the pertinent questions. That's not possible in a blog format, so the story just sits there in its cruelty and disturbing remorselessness without any public probing of the author.
And that is why I now believe I should have rejected the story as it was written and I will not hesitate in the future to wield a heavier editorial hand when I believe it is the right thing to do.
What do you think?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, D. Sugar: Sermon on Your “Mount”