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COLUMN: So many letters, so few personal emails

By Paul Christiansen
On April 2, 2014

When I stepped down as features editor at the end of the fall 2013 semester, I welcomed the new opportunity to share my opinions through a weekly column. It would allow me to step into a new territory that I had yet to experience through my work in journalistic writing. It would give me the chance to ruffle some feathers and make people think.

As an op-ed columnist, it is my job to make observations and then express a degree of criticism and analysis. But that certainly doesn't mean I believe myself beyond the criticism of those who take the time to read the words I write. No, the truth is quite the opposite.

I'm not someone new to rough critiques. I voted for Barack Obama — twice — and would do so again if he was up against the likes of Mitt Romney or John McCain. I used to think Blink-182 was the best band to have ever played music. I thought "Jennifer's Body" was a pretty decent flick and that Megan Fox was the next big Hollywood starlet. And back in 2005, I thought USU's football team would never again rise to excellence.

Obviously, these are all things I could be — and have been — told off for.

This semester I've been criticized for my views on gay marriage, Utah's ridiculous liquor laws, Planned Parenthood, genetically-modified organisms and, most recently, USU's parking lots. These are only a few of the topics I've covered. At the end of each column, readers can find my tagline accompanied with my email address where they can direct comments and questions.

I've received some very kind words from those who have supported and agreed with my views. There have been USU students who have thanked me for addressing tough issues that weren't getting the discussion they deserved. There have been members of the Cache Valley community thank me for telling a side of the story that isn't often shared in our conservative state.

I have yet to personally receive any of the scathing words those individuals who do not agree with my stance on these subjects deliver haphazardly through this newspaper's letters to the editor section. I could attribute this lack of communication to one of two factors: Either people are ignorant of the email address made readily available to them, or they're looking for recognition and bragging rights.

I would opt toward the latter, or maybe people just don't want to have to interact with me in any real way. It's OK, we've all been there. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back and ask your friends if they read your brilliant and witty rebuttal when you told ol' Christiansen he should just park at Wal-Mart and walk to campus if he has an issue with USU Parking. I mean, I had it coming, right? After all, I didn't address every part of the story in the few paragraphs I was allotted in this publication.

I'm only supposed to write 600 words a week on the topics I choose, but I'm constantly pushing that envelope to closer to 800. That's only a few inches of text. If you were to time how long it takes for someone to speak 600 words, you'd only hear a couple minutes of dialogue — time and words go by that fast.

If I had an unlimited amount of room, I could examine all angles and go into more detail about these situations. But even if that was possible, most of my critics — and likely most of all readers — would get bored quickly. We've all heard print media is a dying breed, and who can argue when the public only wants the CliffsNotes version of things. The present day is all about quick dissemination, and if you can't deliver your point in 140 characters, you've already lost your audience.

In spite of an obvious disclaimer in last week's column warning readers that I'd be writing my personal frustrations, I've been criticized for "whining" and told the public doesn't want to hear it. I have yet to see any hard evidence of that, other than a couple of letters to the editor.

As President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

It is my prerogative to write about these things, and it's yours to read them. If you don't want to, don't. If you have actual things you want to say, get a column, or enter the arena and address me. You can find my email in the tagline.

Editor’s note: If a reader is deciding between writing a letter to the editor and addressing Paul personally, the editor-in-chief prefers a letter to the editor. However, letters with Paul’s email address cc’d are welcome and encouraged.

Paul is the former features editor of The Utah Statesman and is a senior majoring in print journalism. Send any comments to paul.r.christiansen@aggiemail.usu.edu.

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