Saturday, August 28, 2010

Let's get started with a story...

Before we talk about your stories, let me tell you one of mine.

It happened about 15 years ago, in a small city in Connecticut where I was a newspaper columnist. I was out to dinner at a restaurant, one that I remember had that day’s newspaper above the urinals in the men’s room, so you know it was a classy place.

At one of those wall units, a gentleman was reading the front of the sports section. The page had one of my columns on it. The man glanced over at me, then looked up at my column mug. Then he did a double-take straight out of a B movie.

“It’s you!” he said, turning my way. Except he hadn’t finished what he’d come into the room to do. I had recognition dribbling down my pant leg.

You might think that, other than the dry cleaning bill, this kind of enthusiasm was a good thing. But journalists, especially newspaper journalists, are largely a shy breed. Most of us got into this business to write some stories and right some wrongs, not to have the lens turned toward us.

That’s difficult now in a digital world. Reporters no longer hide behind their bylines. We blog. We answer emails. We get comments on our stories. Boy, do we get comments.

That exposure is especially true for columnists, a role I’m beginning for the Observer today. Used to be that column writing was a one-way thing - we’d fling open our window, shout what we wanted to shout, then slam it shut until the next time. But now, we’re relearning the value of a good conversation.

Some newspapers, including the Observer, have staffers called “reader engagement editors” whose job is to get you and us talking. The idea is to help us learn what’s happening, what people are thinking, what we’re missing. It also helps push us - and you - beyond what we think we know about each other.

So what do you need to know about me? I’m 45, a husband, a dad. I’m about to become the third smartest person in my house, behind my wife who was ahead of me all along – and my 9-year-old son who is gaining fast. I attend church each week. I like sports. I write beer reviews. I grill.

I’ll be writing a column for this page on Sundays. I’m not replacing Tommy Tomlinson, who made this space sing for 13 years. Tommy will still be writing for the Observer in exciting new ways in print and online.

As for me, I’ve been writing news and features and sports for almost 20 years, long enough to understand that you rarely peg folks based on first impressions, or even third impressions.

Here’s an example: If I tell you I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, which I did, some of you will get to work taping up that ideological box we like to put people in. But what if I tell you I voted for George Bush in 2000? And that I’m not entirely comfortable with the way either decided to spend my tax dollars?

This is what happens with conversations. If you’re willing to listen to people’s stories, you’ll find your notions challenged. Not that you’ll necessarily change your mind. But you’re going to question things. That’s what we’ll do here.

One more item about me: I’m one of those shy types whose job calls on him to talk to folks.

That’s a good thing. Each week, I’ll be posting this column online on my blog, along with other thoughts during the week. There, you can tell me what you think – or ask me what the heck I was thinking. I promise the conversation will not end there.

You can even do it the old-fashioned way, with a phone call, or the sorta old-fashioned way, with an email. Or say hello if you see me on the street or in a restaurant. Even in a rest room. But a handshake will do just fine.


pstonge said...

Hi all,

Welcome to my new column gig. I'll be posting each Sunday column I write for the Observer here, plus other items that don't need to wait until Sundays. I've done column writing before in other cities, in sports and in news, and I've written blogs in Charlotte on elections and the recession, but putting the columns and the online together is a new, fun thing for me. I hope you find it fun, too.

As with the blogs I've done, I hope some conversations break out here. My only ground rules: No name-calling and no nastiness. Well, toward others, at least. You can get on me about my writing and my receding hairline all you want.


Buck Marley said...

Nice start. I can't wait, (well I can, but you know hyperbole,) to hear more of your views and general observations. Welcome to the QC Observer, Sunday, Local&State, page one. BTW, don't worry, I have pretty good aim.

Larry said...

Peter St. Onge: How about getting a conservative blog at the Observer?

I would be willing to do it for free and think it would finally be a breath of fresh air and get a voice for a lot of your readers that has not been heard for a long time up there.

I don't have any thing to sell other than I am Ettolrahc and would be the inside Charlotte on the blog.

Charlotte use to be a great place with great schools, low crime, low taxes and a great place to raise your family. Now we have toys we can not afford and a paper which champions everything within a mile of downtown Charlotte.

Somebody like me is needed today more than ever before.

Larry Bumgarner.

By the way have you seen how the people think some one who thinks the world is a great place and puts their information on their persona is missing brain cells? When did the poles change. I know they do that every couple of hundred years but maybe the normal is not normal now?

pstonge said...

Hi Larry,

I'm not far enough up the pay scale to recommend hires for the O, but I'll pass your comment along.

I do think everyone benefits from a diversity of thoughtful voices. I hope to bring some different perspectives to the issues. I hope you're a part of it in this blog.


pstonge said...


You asked yesterday for links to the Ballot blog and election night CoveritLivechat. As I suspected, the Ballot has been scrubbed clean and repurposed, so there's no archival info there.

As for the election night chat, it wasn't me. I was doing other tasks for the Observer.

As I said before, I think your perception of the blog was accurate: There was more criticism of McCain than Obama. But that wasn't because I censored the latter. In fact, I was very aware of the perception that I might, so the only things that didn't get in were the truly nasty comments. That was true, also, for comments about McCain.

Hope that helps.


heavymetal said...

Yes, Peter. You wouldn't let those "truly nasty" comments fly during the last election. Like those dogged "rumors" that Obama was linked to ACORN-- even when presented with archival evidence.

pstonge said...


I was careful with comments about Obama and Acorn, just as I was about McCain and infidelity (which you didn't see on my blog, by the way.) There were plenty of comments about Obama and ACORN on the blog - but the accusations that had been shown false did not get on.