A complaint call is sometimes good therapy
I remember the telephone call like it was yesterday.
I was working for a weekly newspaper at the time when I got it. The woman on the telephone had a complaint and was extremely irate, but before making the complaint, she had one question.
“Answer me this,” she said. “If someone comes in your house and you don’t want them to, don’t you have the right to blow ’em away?”
Suddenly, the red lights, sirens and red flags came out with the warning, “Watch it.”
“I think that’s something you need to talk to an attorney about,” I told the woman, and gave her the name of a young lawyer in town. He has never forgiven me.
After her question, the woman told a tale of police abuse and brutality and false arrest. As usual, some things were left out, like the person she pulled the gun on was her trailer park manager who came to check a meter.
She also left out the Frisbee full of marijuana the police saw in her trailer and that she tried to pull a gun on a police officer. All of which led to the arrest of her and her husband.
The tale is a true one, and thankfully I’ve never had to deal with another call like that since, but through the years I’ve handled my share.
It’s funny the things people feel newspapers should be able to do or not do, and you can get an earful every time you get a call.
Whether it’s someone complaining that some gas station is “price fixing” gas, or they feel they were overcharged for a hamburger, mistreated at a store in town or the local theater is showing pornography, they let you know it.
They’ll complain about government and public officials, and rage about officials being left off the hook for a variety of sins. One of the most common comments I’ve received is, “They’re public figures, you can say whatever you want about them,” a comment that results in a lesson why you can’t say anything you want about public figures and the trouble you can run into if you do.
Many of the calls are the result of someone just wanting to blow off steam, and they’ve selected a reporter or editor to receive the venom. And then there are complaints that have some true substance. The complaints from residents at the former Whispering Woods apartments about mold growing in their homes and other problems at the complex led to a series of stories.
As long as newspapers and television stations exist, people will feel they can call on us to fight their battles and expose the wrongdoer. And while some of the problems we’re called about rise to the level leading to action, many complaints will never reach that point. Complaints are part of this job I accept, even if it’s so someone can just get their problem off their chest.
John Surratt is a reporter for The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.