The woman’s voice came barreling through on the voicemail message, and she was so angry I could practically hear her shaking.
“I opened up your newspaper this week — actually, I didn’t even have to open it, I just looked at the cover — and I can’t believe how you’re portraying Cajuns,” she said. “That cover photo is repulsive, and I feel sorry for that man.”
There was a pause, and then a male voice came on the line. “I think it’s disgusting,” he said. “It’s probably your daddy.” Click.
The photo in question was of Joe Burge, aka Dr. Feelgood, a proud Cajun and co-host of the Swamp ’n’ Roll television show and radio program. Burge’s cohort, Todd Ortego was the one who supplied us with the picture, which featured Dr. Feelgood masking and wearing his false teeth upside down. No one will ever accuse Burge of being a professional model, but we loved the authenticity and absurdity of the photo for one of the best parts of Mardi Gras: the ability for all of us — whether you’re Cajun or not — to have some fun and even poke fun at ourselves. The accompanying stories, which featured everything from Mardi Gras whippings and wardrobe malfunctions to drunk Texans getting locked in an outhouse by local riders, were also representations of the humorous, more outrageous side of Mardi Gras.
For whatever reason(s), the outraged couple who called missed that aspect of our coverage. And unfortunately, they didn’t leave their names or a phone number, because I would have gladly called them back to talk to them. Strange as it may sound, I welcome the occasional angry expletive-laden letters, messages or e-mails we get from readers, because it shows they care enough to take the time to tell us their thoughts about the paper, even when they don’t like what we write. (Not to mention they’re a welcome diversion from the 100-or-so hot-stock-offer and discount herbal Viagra spam e-mails I get every day.)
And in the case of the offended readers above, I especially would have liked to talk to them, because I take accusations that The Independent Weekly has any sort of agenda very seriously. Our primary mission here is to provide thoughtful, informed journalism based on serious reporting and consideration of the facts, issues and people involved in our coverage. Simply put, we couldn’t achieve that goal if we were operating with any kind of agenda.
When it comes to political coverage, it’s part of the territory in today’s increasingly partisan climate that not all of our readers are going to agree with our coverage or opinions. Some observers say we’re too liberal, while others say we’re too conservative. All I can do is give you our promise that we are not driven by any kind of partisan agenda. We look at individual politicians, candidates, their records and their policies with the goal of analyzing what they mean to our local community and the state. I can count the number of politicians on two hands who I probably won’t be getting any future Christmas cards from because of past coverage, and right now that list splits 50/50 Democrat and Republican.
On a quasi-related note, last week a politician told me off-the-record that we printed an error — in a story that we published almost a year ago. It wasn’t a major mistake; we’d mischaracterized how long two people had known each other. But still, accuracy is paramount to what we do, and I asked him why he hadn’t called me to point out the problem. “What good would it have done?” he asked. “The story had already been published.”
If no one points out the error, then there’s the chance that we could inadvertently make the same mistake again.
I reference the above incidents to hopefully remind you that we produce The Independent Weekly for you — our readers. We have never operated in a vacuum and never will; the best journalism should spark community dialogue, and we value and respect your thoughts and opinions.
So don’t ever hesitate to reach out to us. Our e-mail addresses and the office phone number are right on our masthead on Page 6, and you’re always welcome to come by our offices at 551 Jefferson St., too. (We love a bit of advance notice in those cases, as Fridays and Mondays we’re usually buried in our collective push toward our Monday publication deadline.)
So whether you’ve got praise, criticism, a news tip or a story idea, we’re all ears. And if you leave us a voicemail message — even if it’s an angry one — make sure you leave a phone number so we can call you back.