WENZEL: Sorry, but yes, it’s funny
I doubt we’ll be up for an Emmy anytime soon, but The Daily Republic had its 15 seconds of national fame Friday night.
For those who haven’t heard, a clip from The Daily Republic was featured on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” during his recurring segment, “Small-Town News.”
Funny, but I’ve secretly feared this moment for years. The segment isn’t meant to be complimentary to those of us who publish newspapers in smalltown America.
Generally, the segment is an homage to pettiness (such as police blotter reports) and mistakes (humorous typos). We’ve had some Lettermanworthy moments over the years, but I believe we have, thankfully, avoided being featured on his show.
But Friday, Letterman poked fun at a picture that appeared in our Aug. 19 edition. On Page 4 that day, we published a photo of a dead raccoon; tied to its leg was a balloon. The caption accompanying the photo read “Someone tied a ‘Get Well’ balloon on Sunday to this dead raccoon lying on the side of Highway 37 a few miles south of Mitchell.”
The Daily Republic hardly deserves credit for this. We don’t know who tied the balloon onto the leg of the unfortunate critter. We also don’t know who sent the clip to Letterman. Whoever you are, I offer a sincere thank you to both.
I do know that when I saw that photo in our newspaper that day, I immediately sought out Candy DenOuden, the news staffer who captured the image. My words to her: “Great photo. And don’t let anyone give you any grief about it, either.”
Experience has taught me when to expect trouble and sure enough, someone called to complain. The reader left a message asking if Candy really thought the photo was funny.
Now Candy — an Avon native and graduate of Mitchell Christian School and Indiana Wesleyan University — is a great person and a greater diplomat. She would have given a polite response.
Had the caller reached me, I would have told her flat-out that, yes, I found the photo hilarious. Three months later, I believe David Letterman himself backs me up on this one. His audience laughed heartily.
Dear, dear readers: Trust me when I say you don’t want a boring newspaper. You may think you do, but you really don’t. You’ve paid good money to bring us into your homes, and you should expect to be entertained as much as you are informed. You should be pleased with us, and at times, you deserve to be angry with us. Hopefully, we stir emotions more toward the former than the latter, but either way, we want you to read on.
Sometimes, our stride reaches too far and we realize that. We know occasionally, this kind of approach will result in a photo that offends, a story that has a typo or an opinion piece that is upsetting.
We will apologize when we are factually wrong, but rarely, if ever, will we apologize for presenting a piece we consider newsworthy or entertaining.
We tell stories — sometimes funny, sometimes sad.
Civil conversations about our news decisions are entirely welcome. We only ask that you understand the approach. It certainly isn’t something over which to drop a subscription.
We recently completed an in-house initiative for creative advertising. The idea actually came to us in the days following the dead-raccoon photo. My speech to the advertising department was that sometimes, we have to take big steps to entertain and capture the attention of our customers. Although no participating client based their ad on a photo of a dead animal, the initiative resulted in some wonderful and unique advertising.
Again, the idea is to be seen and to entertain — not to be dull, boring and afraid to make a few waves.
As of this writing (early Sunday afternoon, before the Vikings game) more than 2,700 people had viewed the Letterman clip on our Internet site. I also know it was a rather popular video on Facebook. Thanks to David Letterman, the raccoon photo will be one of the most popular news items we produce this year. I probably won’t reach out to Letterman, but I definitely will give Candy DenOuden some sort of gift when she arrives at work today. A dead raccoon with a get-well balloon tied to its lifeless leg? I’m sorry, but yes, I do find that quite funny. I’m glad we published that photo.