A newspaper columnist walks away

I’ve never met Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin, although I recall he took issue a time (maybe two) with something I wrote reacting to something he wrote.

I would have liked to have known him because he wears his heart on his sleeve and that’s a good thing for a newspaper columnist. It’s also what will get you killed on social media.

People in the business like to talk about having a thick skin, but a thick skin is the armor of the cynical in journalism and it doesn’t help the telling of stories that need to be told. We don’t presently have too many stories about people who live an existence deserving of some comfort.

In announcing his retirement in Sunday’s Star Tribune, Tevlin appears to say he doesn’t like the job much anymore, mostly because of the social media pushback.

In the past couple of years, however, I’ve gotten worn down by the weekly screeds and wishes that I lead a short, uncomfortable life. I began to dread the 3 a.m. calls and anonymous notes. After many weekends got ruined by hostile chatter on social media, my wife, Ellen, wisely suggested I either kill my column or Twitter. I survived the past few years, in fact, by removing social media from my phone.

I fear we are becoming a mean, arrogant country. In fact, at 6 a.m. the day after voters elected a bigoted, narcissistic megalomaniac, I wrote to my financial planner the following words: “I feel like I’ve wasted 30 years of my life. Get me out of here.”

I was despondent. The reason I’m leaving, however, is exactly the opposite of despair. Over the past year I’ve seen my newspaper and my profession rise to the challenge of people who are aiming to destroy the First Amendment.

As I write this, I’m surrounded by veterans and young reporters who are smarter and more skilled than I am. They are also as committed and tenacious as any journalists I’ve ever known. I’ve come to believe truth and decency will win out. It feels like a perfect time to step away and let them have at it.

No matter how tough your skin, nobody wants a constant harangue of criticism, even if the point of a newspaper columnist is to shove things down the throat of readers who don’t want anything but their view of the world.

With a few exceptions, the reaction to Tevlin’s announcement on social media was typically classless.

Those exceptions were tweets from the best writers among us. That should be a clue to adjust our thinking accordingly.

Tevlin’s exit, of course, opens the way to a younger columnist to take over if, as he says, they’re waiting for their chance.

Ideally, the Strib would hang out a “white men need not apply” shingle since the newspaper’s lineup of voices is almost exclusively male, white, and comfortable.

Good luck in your retirement, Jon Tevlin! And good luck to whomever gets the gig.

Bring your own armor. And a long sleeve.

Photo from Chuck Olsen via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

  • Alberto Sappwood

    Ideally, the Strib would hang out a “white men need not apply” shingle since the newspaper’s lineup of voices is almost exclusively male, white, and comfortable.

    This would be quite bigoted. Such a job posting would also violate federal and state law.

  • Well, I can see why he retired. 😂

  • Gary F

    Annette Meeks, Katherine Kersten, Walter Hudson, Katie Kieffer (she might be to big for the Star Trib now), or Susan Vass. All people with Minnesota connections that would add some diversity for the paper.

    The Star Tribune featured an opinion piece by Hugh Hewitt the other day and now feature political cartoons by Michael Ramirez. So they are adding some diversity to their offering.

    • Jerry

      Katherine Kersten is essentially on staff as it is.

      • I don’t think she has her Sunday column anymore.

        • Gary F

          The comment section got too nasty?

    • Mitch Berg

      But it’s interesting that in a city full of excellent writers whose perspectives differ from the Strib’s bland center-left establishment myopia, the Strib feels the need to *import* opinion writers that show any intellectual diversity.

  • It seemed fitting to first read Mr. Tevlin’s final column in the print edition of the Strib this past weekend. I knew immediately what he was feeling, and it reminded me of how comment moderators (actual human ones) come away from those jobs at the big social media companies with PTSD from dealing with the detritus of human nature with little real help from artificial intelligence. They really are in the trenches in a war to defend civility. Frankly, I have often thought that the Strib itself is diminished by its lightly moderated comment policy, so I prefer to read it on mobile or paper where it is hard to be distracted by comments. One publication, Popular Science, pointedly announced the end of online comments altogether due to the outsized attacks on climate science by trolls.

    Is there any answer to this toxic problem? After all, the Strib has no influence over other platforms like Twitter. For now all it seems we can do is to simply not pay much attention to them – limit our exposure to to the minimum by not allowing them to take over our day.

  • Mitch Berg

    “Ideally, the Strib would hang out a “white men need not apply” shingle since the newspaper’s lineup of voices is almost exclusively male, white, and comfortable.”

    Huh.

    The Strib’s columnist stable (outside of Kersten, whose status at the Strib is always nebulous anyway) reminds me of Alan Dershowitz’s assessment of the Harvard Law School faculty: “You think “diversity” is someone with different colored skin, or in a skirt, who thinks exactly the same as you”. (The same could be said of MPR, by the way).

    What difference would it make if the Strib hired a non-white non-male (NWNM) if their writing was indistinguishable from the DFL flaks with bylines that make up the rest of the staff? Would hiring a black woman whose point of view is indistinguishable from Lori Sturdevant or Nick Coleman (or Keri Miller) really be that big a change, much less improvement?

    Other than in the “virtue-signaling ticket-punching” kind of way, I mean?

    • Gary F

      Does anyone remember the “angry white male” that had the job before Telvin?

    • I think diversity is perspective from different experiences. I’m bored with predictable content. Bored.

      I want to read something I never thought of before.

      I also want to read less politically based columns. I haven’t read a fresh thought about politics in years.

      I only have about 15 years to live, tops. I don’t want to waste it reading thought reruns.

      • Mitch Berg

        Today’s Strib columnist: middle-aged former idealist from Macalester/Saint Olaf/U of M J-School whose naievete was ground to pulp by a decade or two working as a reporter, developing a cranky dyspepsia combined with that sense of entitlement that people in monastic trades often get; painstakingly foreswears having any political allegiance, but their opinions always align with the DFL, who is a white male.

        Bob’s fantasy Strib columnist: middle-aged former idealist from Macalester/Saint Olaf/U of M J-School whose naievete was ground to pulp by a decade or two working as a reporter, developing a cranky dyspepsia combined with that sense of entitlement that people in monastic trades often get; painstakingly foreswears having any political allegiance, but their opinions always align with the DFL, who is of color and/or female.

        (I’m with you about the politics – but then, the Strib already has Lileks, one of the best non-politics columnists in America, although he’s also only white and male).

        • // (I’m with you about the politics – but then, the Strib already has Lileks, one of the best non-politics columnists in America, although he’s also only white and male).

          And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not recommending old white men be fired. But if you’ve already got 10 of them on staff, what’s the value of adding an 11th?

          Also, my ideal columnist would have attended a community college. St. Olaf? Johnnies? Macalester? Yawn.

  • Gary F

    Delete the comments section? Does that mean the columnist needs his/her “safe space” just like today’s college student?

    • It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the NewsCut comment section disappears in 2018 too, not because anyone needs a safe place, but because there’s no reason to maintain an infrastructure for anything that lacks sufficient value.

      • Al

        I find much more than sufficient value in NewsCut comments. Please fight for them.

      • Joseph

        Bob, just so you know, the NewsCut comment section is the only comment section I read, because it is the only comment section where the readers and writers add to the story, and thanks to your dedicated moderation, can continue to grow, thrive, and honestly debate ideas. As strange as this sounds, I even feel like I’ve made a few friends on here (Shout out to my man Onan!)

        Please keep the comments going.
        – Joseph

        • I agree wholeheartedly, although I DO check out the Coffee Break threads on The Current every few days.

    • >> Does that mean the columnist needs his/her “safe space” just like today’s college student?<<

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/51d60d9cd87d8eb03e48d69ae0f141e363021620299efc1faf1d678cd3a22a3d.jpg

  • Mike Worcester

    Honestly I was skeptical when Mr. Tevelin replaced Nick Coleman, who while being irascible at times was nearly always on point. I certainly grew to appreciate his writings and perspectives even when I disagreed (which happened with some frequency and that’s fine as his columns were *opinion* pieces). That he is leaving in part because of the nastiness brought on by social media’s merging with news outlets is for sure unfortunate.

    Thirty years ago I used to feel a little bad for the people who read through all the letters to the editor because I’m sure some of them were not very nice. Fifteen years ago I felt for those who had to moderate the comments sections of articles thanks to the cesspool created by anonymous postings. Now I feel for those who have to manage the social media sector of any news outlet. Apparently having people’s real identites attached to comments has not lessened level of vitriol.

    As for Twitter — there’s a reason it is a dying platform. Mr. Tevlin showed us one of them.

    • Mitch Berg

      “Nick Coleman, who…was nearly always on point”

      I gotta admit, you almost had me fooled.

      Which is what makes the most brilliant satire.

      Bravo.

      (And I’ll toast the day Twitter gives up its final 404 page…)