When readers send hate mail, I respond. In fact, I have a ready answer.
Technically, it’s a form letter. The key components are acknowledging readers’ anger, inferring the best motives, and letting them know that their electronic rant, no matter how offensive, is duly noted.
It goes something like this:
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my story.
I read emails like yours in the way I hope they’re intended — as a sincere and good-faith effort to improve my stories and columns.
Feedback like yours makes future stories better, and that’s especially true when you don’t like what I’ve written.
Why am I admitting all of this in a public forum? Because, just out of curiosity, I looked up the number of times I sent the letter. I would have guessed that I sent the response, which I refer to internally as “negative feedback response,” at least several times a week, if not daily.
Wrong. It might get sent once a week, but often only a few times a month.
I’ll get to the reasons in a minute. But first, let’s go through a few of the recent emails that have triggered the negative feedback response.
Here’s one from an incensed airline analyst after I covered a proposed rule for minimum seat room on planes.
While you’re waxing enthusiastic about the good old days when the Civil Aeronautics Board regulated airlines, don’t forget to tell readers that flying was way more expensive, often up to six times more than today, when adjusted for inflation.
Then again, that’s often the problem with folks like you: a lot of the people who pine for the good old days just aren’t comfortable that we’ve democratized a mode of travel once available only to the well-to-do.
Actually, that’s an incredibly uninformed thing to say about yours truly. I flew before and after deregulation, and I remember that we didn’t arrive at the point where we were gasping for personal space overnight. You can run a profitable airline and treat your passengers well. Oh, and you’re talking to someone who grew up below the poverty line, so I’m very comfortable with democracy — just maybe not this reader’s attitude.
Here’s another one from a reader of my newspaper column:
I buy the paper for the travel section, to see if there’s anything of value in your articles. Your content seems to be diminishing exponentially in value over time.
Really. Hotel parking fees vs. Uber and TSA full body scanners? What’s next? Where to best find baggage carts at each airport to return in order to get quarters back?
Now there’s an idea!
Truth is, my stories are dictated by consumer problems and questions. So to this reader and any others who might be bored with my articles — stories I try hard to make interesting, even when the subject matter isn’t — I say: Send me compelling cases. Or maybe an interesting question. Then, maybe you’ll have less to complain about.