The letter I didn't send

The vast majority of public television viewers are kind, intelligent, supportive and understanding people. Generous, too. Lovely folks that I’m delighted to work with every day.

But there are also …pardon me… assholes.

Below I’ve included a viewer comment I got this week (with identity obscured), and the reply I never sent, but wish I did. I actually had the message in draft, but never clicked the Send button.

A little background: We are in our spring pledge drive right now, and that always upsets some people because much of the programming most PBS stations run during pledge is way, way outside the norm. It’s widely assumed that the people “giving” during pledge drives are actually “shopping” for stuff (books, DVDs, etc.) and don’t really care terribly much about the core public TV mission. I think it depends on the program and the viewer, but in general it does seem like regular viewers lose their beloved programs as they are broadly displaced by those giving — or buying — around the specialty programs.

Anyway, on to the letter…

Tue, Mar 10, 2009 at 10:18 PM

As usual, throw the mission statement out the window and run reruns of Yoga and Guru’s and fake Irish Can Can dancing, over and over, and over and over. Some os us, a slim minority agreed, are interested in seeing the Treasury Secretary, not some twisting body parts for over paid middle class white folks. You know there is a Depression going on, but what do you care, too caught up with being local t.v. stars. GET A CLUE… either give us the news or give up the Charter to maybe an outfit in the Valley. Because you people are through the looking glass infatuated with your own stink. NEWS … not fake gurus !! I mean, the Babtist Temple idiot guy makes more sense then those dumb asses you peddle.

Oh, one other thing… this person has written nasty e-mails to us at least twice a year for several years now. He never fails to send the most bombastic and horrifying rants, and he always threatens to start his own station.  He sends in his hate both about our TV and our FM stations, depending upon which one “offended” him most recently.

I wish I’d sent him this reply (but didn’t)…

Ah, Mr. Xxxxx… Your hate-filled comments about pledge drive programs, our staff and volunteers and viewers that don’t keep in line with your expectations have arrived in our e-mail once again. I would think after several years you’d get tired of leaving this bag of flaming dog poop on our doorstep.

Yet, ironically, what your regular rants suggest is that you’re watching our station. Watching quite a bit. More than most people.

But you’re not paying as close attention as you could.

Because while in the past we’ve pre-empted virtually all Charlie Rose episodes during pledge drives, this time we made adjustments. THIS time, we’re running nearly all the Charlie Rose episodes during pledge (4 out of 5 each week). Sure, they may slip from 10pm to 10:30 or 11pm, but they’re on the air. We made extra work for ourselves — without adding staff — just to keep Rose fans hooked up with their favorite show.

Some viewers have noticed and appreciated the effort and even became supporting members because they recognize both the value of the program in their lives and the fact that we paid attention and changed things to respect their interests.

But not you. After all, why break with tradition?

I highly recommend you start your own public TV station. That way, you can have a front-row seat for what could very well be the death of an entire industry as the proliferation of TV channels and the Internet explosion thins the air so much that you can’t breathe. Meanwhile, thousands of your colleagues across the country collectively scratch their heads, trying to figure out just how to fund the business while still serving the public interest (more than any other TV service out there).

Go ahead — hire the lawyers and bicker with the FCC over licensing. Build a tower, buy a transmitter, hire a staff. Find a building, build a studio, buy cameras and then pay PBS hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the privilege of airing their programs, leaving you no capacity to serve the local audience in a locally-relevant way.

Then you, too, can have the pleasure of reading some of the nastiest viewer comments you’ve read in your life — in the middle of the night when you’re trying to catch up, just once, with the mountains of work on your plate, left there because you can’t afford to hire staff to run the business efficiently.

In a situation like this, a little Irish dancing, a little yoga, and yes, even Yanni sounds pretty damn good.

As far as we can tell, this particular “fan” of public television has never given a dime.

What do you think — should I have clicked Send?

9 thoughts on “The letter I didn't send

  1. I find it a bit sad that this blog post is the only one in the ‘RANTS’ category. It seems lonely; you should make it some friends.

    We get our fair share of ‘interesting’ emails, but this one is wonderful for the typos, lunacy, and tenacity. Tell me how I can get on this person’s Christmas card list, it would make my season.

    1. @Andrew – I’ll have to post some of the phone calls we get. Yowza!

      Sadly, the most negative calls and e-mails we get are from non-members. I’d take it more seriously if it were from a regular contributor.

  2. I think it’s better if this letter writer thinks you just trashed his note. He’s in it for the fight, not the ‘right’.

    But, it’s good to get your own frustrations aired – someone I work with thinks your note is amusing. I think we’re all feeling the heat (pardon me, Frontline, “HEAT”) as we ‘do more with less.’

    Our viewers are of all stripes, have helped us through political and financial messes before, and as you said at first, are some of the most thoughtful and loyal in the world.

    Best wishes, and have fun with the ‘delete’ button every time this scalawag scuttles out from under his rock!

    1. Thanks Nancy! It sure is a challenge to keep all these balls in the air. Definitely doesn’t help to have people throw off your rhythm along the way. Not that this guy really did. But it sure feels like insult being added to injury sometimes.

  3. I work at a public radio station and a lot of us in the membership areas have always wanted to send a similar note. The anchors, reporters and producers always get the “I love NPR” note and comments and we always seem to get the I hate you and your station letters.

    1. @Jorge – Our reporters get some doozies from time to time, too. It’s amazing to me how people can click send on their own screeching messages and wonder why we don’t reply. And we get it ALL, too. The “you guys are just a bunch of commies” and the “you’re in the pocket of corporate interests” themes are popular (and opposite). The insults to intelligence are regular.

      I can’t imagine the kinds of messages that flow into really big stations like KQED or WNYC or WGBH. Yikes!

  4. Of course, you couldn’t send it, but wouldn’t it feel soooo good for a minute or two if you had. But you know what: a jerk is a jerk is a jerk and what jerks have to say is of now value and needs to roll off like water off a duck’s back. Nice to be able to blog it, though. A little catharsis is a healthy thing.

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