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From the Publisher: Sounding Off



There are four full pages of letters to the editor in this week's Seven Days. One is feedback related to Kevin McCallum's August 4 story about Vermont's new indoor firing range, where you can check out firearms the way you rent shoes at a bowling alley.

Gun aficionados across the continent objected to McCallum's first-person account of shooting an AR-15-style rifle, claiming that he exaggerated the weapon's kickback. They also questioned his motives, manhood and politics, as well as the ethics of Seven Days. An alarming number made the point that even little girls can handle this firearm. One writer included a link to a video of a young woman in a strapless dress firing a massive Browning .50 caliber machine gun.

Did I mention that all of the letter writers are men?

Following the gun guys is a full spread of angry wildlife advocates responding to a news story in our August 11 Animal Issue that explains the logic — and the massive winter tick infestation — behind Vermont's expanded moose hunt. In this case, the objectors fault Seven Days for going too easy on the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

By quoting state biologists, these folks allege, we are promoting Fish & Wildlife's biased, pro-hunting agenda. There's no acknowledgment that reporter Anne Wallace Allen included the viewpoint of Brenna Galdenzi of Protect Our Wildlife Vermont. But Galdenzi's talking points come through in almost every letter we received.

Is there anything to draw from this coincidence — the outpouring of passion in defending the rights of gun owners and wild animals?

On the one hand, I'm gratified that two completely different groups, with seemingly opposing views, would share their thoughts in Seven Days. It takes time to craft a persuasive letter and courage to put your real name on it.

Almost every writer was civil and appreciative when I called to verify their identities. Only one gun guy from Charlotte turned out to be a fake. His phone was disconnected, so I emailed — twice. When I threatened to pull his letter, he responded to say that he was "on lockdown" out of the country and couldn't talk on the phone. A public records search revealed no one with the name he provided is living in Vermont.

Most people are pretty reasonable when you engage them. But I notice that communications seem angrier in general, more likely to go from zero to outraged without a lot of provocation. Last Thursday, a woman emailed me to criticize a news story in last week's issue for using the word "lobby" instead of "foyer" to describe the receiving area of a private home. It was a valid point, but her conclusion — "Get your paper a better proofreader" — was totally out of scale with the error.

When I asked whether she'd meant the criticism to be published, she said no, then accused us of sloppy word choice and a liberal bias.

After having been on the receiving end of all these other angry messages, I dashed off an indignant response.

Her reply surprised me. It was still critical but much kinder, and it included a compliment: "You do have good reporters, I think."

Now we've got a regular email correspondence going.

I'm grateful for it, and for all the readers who value local journalism and want to see us get it right. We want to hear from you. But please let us know what you like, too. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way.