Meeting readers is best part of this job


Today's column has nothing to do with some of my favorite topics -- old Baltimore, my family or the weather.

It is about the readers, the people who have clung to The Evening Sun so loyally.

Your tenacity and marvelous hard-headedness has not been lost here. I thank you as this newspaper prepares to shut down.

This column began at the old News American, and first appeared here on Thursday, June 5, 1986 in the week following the closing of the Hearst evening paper. That adds up to nearly 17 years -- a pile of paragraphs.

What has been the best part of this job?

That's easy: The people I've written about.

In those 17 years I've been welcomed into Baltimore's best kitchens and club cellars. People have shared their joys and secrets, their frustrations and delights. They've been open and honest. They have made my day, day after day.

More than one person has commented that I must have one of the greatest jobs in Baltimore. How correct they are. That's because the readers have become such gracious patrons.

In those 17 years, so many readers have dropped me notes or called. A half dozen have rung my home's ancient doorbell, unannounced.

And talk about the highest form of flattery, I've had Evening Sun subscribers come up to me in the aisles of grocery stores and quote a paragraph I'd written the week before. Thanks again, that little act of kindness was better than a bonus on a paycheck.

These people have told me about the topics and ideas they enjoy. They have taught me never to be afraid of a column subject that interests or delights. Time and time again, writing about some small facet of everyday life has drawn the surest response.

When I have botched the facts, attentive readers have been highly constructive. One gentleman who taught at the Johns Hopkins University used to read this column to learn about Baltimore. Every so often he would mail a packet of them to me, with spelling and grammatical errors marked in red.

A school teacher from Decatur Street in Locust Point sent me a French-English dictionary when she doubted -- correctly -- my proficiency in that language.

Some readers were unhappy when I took a vacation they deemed was too long. (I took a secret delight this past Labor Day when a long-time reader found me at home and chewed me out for exiting Baltimore for the two weeks I habitually take each August.)

I have learned a few things in this job. One is this cardinal rule -- never try to put anything over on newspaper readers.

They are bright, knowledgeable and well-versed in the ways of human nature. They can detect an error at 50 feet and smell a synthetic sentiment a mile away. In short, the readers have stressed accuracy. They don't like lazy writing and reporting. The brave ones will tell you so, then cite examples of your lesser efforts.

While readers hate pomposity and bad manners, they gobble up honesty. They aren't afraid of sentiment if truly offered.

I am very much looking forward to continuing this column in the Sunday editions of The Sun, beginning Sept. 24

In addition to the column, I'll still be searching out the people who make this town a better place to live and writing about them in the daily Sun.

It is an opportunity I welcome -- a chance to meet even more people.

There will be some readers who don't like this arrangement. In answer, I am reminded of the great Betty Farace of Woodyear Street in Southwest Baltimore.

It was back in June 1986. Betty was a loyal News American reader and didn't especially like changing over to the Evening Sun.

"When you wrote for the News American, your articles used to sing. Now they are just words," she said.

In time Betty got used to the new location. And a few months later, the words must have started to warble a bit.

She said I'd improved and gave me a jar of her famous homemade cranberry chutney.

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