The waiter came over and asked me how things were going at our table.
In past practice, if something was not up to par, I would just be stupidly polite and say, "Everything's fine" as if not to bother the waiter and cook and cost the owner in wasted food costs. This time, however, the food on my plate was perceptively gross. The pasta was overcooked mush and I wasn't about to pay $12 for a plate of mush and walk out unhappy.
I spoke up this time and said, "No, I have a problem. Ordinarily this is good but today it's just horrible. It's tasteless mush."
He apologized and expedited another order. This time the food quality was greatly improved.
Watching Gordon Ramsay's reality shows "Kitchen Nightmares" and "Hell's Kitchen" helped me be more assertive. In those shows the master chef painfully critiques eating establishments that are being mismanaged into the ground with horrible food and helps them turn things around. He doesn't mince words.
If those who dine don't provide feedback, then no improvement can ever be made. Indeed, apathy never made a restaurant better. Nor does it make a great community.
Likewise, an apathetic readership never helped improve a community newspaper. I wish we received more feedback.
My email account is routinely filled with junk and unsolicited press releases. I wish I had more personal connection from readers. I'm not whining but it's a rare thing when a reader comments about the content of the Courier. I call for it - indeed each column of mine is tagged with the words, "How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at email@example.com" - but it generally doesn't happen.
Don't get me wrong; I do get occasional positive feedback from somebody or an "atta boy" if somebody happens to see me. I also hear occasional criticism about a piece of mine - like on Friday when former police sergeant Hollie Hall saw me after years of disconnection and suggested that he reads my stuff but some of my opinion pieces were "a bit out there." He gave no specifics but I appreciated his affirmation that he reads the Courier.
There are times I admit to being a little disillusioned when we come up with new ideas and knock ourselves out to see the concept through, produce a special page or article and hear absolutely zero feedback. I'll give you some examples. On March 6, 2013 I devised a fun page filled with Ceres trivia, with the page designed around a theme of a mock board game as the central graphic. The page contained 40 interesting multiple-choice trivia questions. At the end I invited people to submit more trivia questions via my email. The page received zero feedback. I was shocked; it was if nobody saw it.
I repeated the concept of a trivia page, this time with a pirates and high seas theme. A lot of time was spent on making it graphically intriguing. One person, a pastor, saw me at a City Council meeting and mentioned that it was interesting. It was the only comment I received.
Last month I struck upon what I thought was a great idea: two facing pages filled with Christmas memories of selected longtime residents, complete with photos. I just knew that readers would be pleased but I told myself I'd probably hear nothing. I was right; again, not a word - pro or con - hit my ears or eyes. There was no feedback from even the people who participated.
What does an editor do with that? I suppose go with instinct and conclude that since there were no complaints, people didn't dislike it. But I keep asking myself if they like it.
There used to be an old adage that if you wrote your congressman, your letter had the weight of 100 constituents. That's because your opinion is representative of the 99 others who feel the same way but didn't write their congressman. So I suppose I should take the occasional in-person "I love your paper" and conclude that hundreds feel the same way but don't tell us. I get that. We are all busy and usually won't go out of our way to offer a kudo but we are eager to deliver a complaint. I guess it's human nature.
We at the Courier try to do the best we can with the limited resources we have. We believe that community newspapers relevant are very relevant to your life and that we fill an important niche. Community newspapers inform you about news that affects you the greatest. I believe that our City Council has more direct impact on a local resident than the federal government. So it's important for you to know what it is doing. I believe that the local burglar has more direct bearing on your well-being than an East Coast serial killer. So it's important to know what he's up to and how he's striking Ceres neighborhoods. And it's important that the accomplishments of local kids are heralded in the paper - you won't see that elsewhere - and is often their first taste of being part of community as they prepare to become the next generation of movers and shakers.
But honestly, we like knowing how we are doing (aside from the typos), what you like and what you don't like. Otherwise we are going to assume everything is fine when the plate may have food less than palatable than believed.
How will the cook know he needs to improve when the customer remains silent?
It's a new year. Let me know what you'd like to see if you don't see it already.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.