Pay it Forward: The E-mail I Thought About All Night

“Nobody ever has any success in life without the help of a friend.”

That’s what a successful businessman told me back in 2008 when I was on the brink of launching a publishing business from the ground up. I’d gone to solicit his advice, and his money, by way of advertising in a new publication.

He agreed to invest several thousand dollars in our publication, not necessarily because it helped him so much, but because he cared enough to pay something forward.

I’ve never forgotten that day.

***

husband wife relationships

This is Dana. My wife and #1 helpmate. There’s not another person in the world who’s given me so much of themselves.

I receive between 150 and 200 emails on any given day. Like most, I’m selective in what I read versus what gets “xd out” at first glance.

Late yesterday an email to my personal account carried a tagline “I value your opinion,” and almost certain it was spam, it was a good candidate for a quick delete.

I reluctantly clicked it anyway.

Turns out the email was from a fellow blogger with whom I’d struck up a casual relationship a month ago. We’ll call him Tom.

Tom basically said he was looking for a writing mentor. Here’s an edited excerpt from his email:

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“I’ve dabbled in writing for a long time. I’m at the point in my life that I’d like to get serious about it. I’ve been a “closet writer” for ages, not letting anyone see my work (including my wife) for fear of being judged, an inferiority complex and being laughed at.
I’m desperate at this point in my life to make something of myself. I would be indebted to you if you could look over my post and critique my writing. I understand your (sic) a busy person and have your own life to move forward with. And totally understand if your (sic) just to busy, or simply didn’t want to get involved.
I’ve looked at many other people and their writing on wordpress, but for some reason I keep gravitating back to your site for “pointers.” I’m sure some of it has to do with your journalism background being that I came from a newspaper background myself. I drove a newspaper truck for 22 years in Chicago. Not the same as a journalist by any stretch of the imagination. But a sense of connection just the same.
In short I’m looking for a mentor in writing and would be grateful if you would help me. I’m not sure yet how I can return the favor. I’m not very good at anything unless you needed driving directions in Chicago (I thought I needed to throw in some humor). All I ask is you think about it. And please don’t feel obligated or pressured to help. I’ll understand.
I’ve agonized for days about sending you this email. #1 I didn’t want to bother you. After all you don’t know me. #2 I’m not accustomed to asking anyone for help. It’s just something I don’t do.”
***
Tom’s right. I stay pretty busy. Overly busy. But I get what he’s saying.

mother son relationships

This is my mom. Her love and suppor have been unconditional for 46 years.

  • He’s apprehensive about writing what’s on his heart.
  • Transparency is scary.
  • He really wants to make something of himself.
  • He hates to ask anyone for help.
  • But help is precisely what he needs.
So Tom finds himself in a place to which I suspect we can all relate.
  • Have you ever desperately needed to share your heart, but bottled it all up for fear of rejection?
  • Have you found yourself in a moment when you searched your heart for your true life’s calling?
  • Are you simply too prideful or fearful to ask a friend for help?
best friends and men

This is my very best friend in the world. He helps me by making life fun, being there at a moment’s notice and defining loyalty.

Interestingly, Tom’s communicated with me at the very time when I’ve determined to say “no” to more things than I normally do.

By nature, I’m an over-extender, spread thin, and in the midst of trying to simplify life.

But I get it Tom. Been there, done that. To you, I say “yes.”
I’ll do whatever I can to help Tom. Too many people have helped me by way of pure grace. It’s true – what my helper said back in 2008 – is still true today.
“You never have any success in life without the help of a friend.”
Do you relate to Tom’s sentiments? I’m guessing so.
About transparency, fear of judgment, making something of yourself and asking for help… what would you tell Tom?
Seriously, what would you say to him?
I’d like to know. I bet he would too.
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Blogging Home Runs – Sometimes

big mac home run recordMost bloggers would acknowledge a certain sense of satisfaction in receiving “likes” and commentary on the posts they make.

I receive feedback a number of ways.

Readers leave their thoughts/opinions in the “comment” section of my site. Others make simple comments via any number of social media used to broadcast the post. Occasionally, a reader will send  private inbox or email which means they really went out of their way to offer feedback.

Such was the case yesterday from a work colleague in response to this post.

In his 50-word email, Bob reflected that in his 40 years he’d always tried to live life to the fullest. Having an awesome, supportive wife by his side in their 12 married years was a big bonus that contributed to his ability to do just that, he said. Then, in his first response ever to my work, he said this:

“Keep on writing. Some days you hit a home run.”

That comment gave momentary pause to my morning.

Bob is a smart guy. I mean really smart – in a way I’ll never comprehend. One of those guys I label a techno-wiz. Give him a keyboard and a monitor and he can do anything. He’s also a pretty cool guy like me who doesn’t take himself too seriously, so we get along well. Since I’m Bob’s polar opposite, I’ve always admired his ability in that area and often joke with him that we ought to get together and develop some “technology” in the “lab.” It’s just my way of laughing at my own inadequacies in the area where he excels.

So when a guy like Bob pays you a compliment, you take a moment to cherish his words.

What Bob Didn’t Say…

Sometimes you hit a home run. Sometimes. Not always.

There’s a blatant honesty in the statement. What he didn’t say was this: Sometimes, your work’s not that great, or sometimes it doesn’t particularly resonate with me, or sometimes, I totally disagree with what you say.

Sometimes.

I love that Bob said it that way. I love what he didn’t say, and how he didn’t say it. Because it’s a great reminder, and a life lesson in some regard.

Some days are really good. Other days, we miss the mark, altogether. But once in a while, we hit a home run, and those days are to be treasured.

I’m asked fairly often why I blog. If I’m transparent in the reasons why, here are some.

1. I write because I can’t not (excuse the double negative) write. It’s the way I best communicate. My written words are much better than the spoken ones.

2. I blog to express opinions, make points and chronicle life.

3. A small percentage of the time, I blog for self-promotion; to create a brand of myself. That may sound egocentric enough, but it’s just business really. The reality is I’ll never be Lewis Grizzard, Pat Conroy or Cormac McCarthy. But I do have some books coming out over the next few months, and with a little luck I’ll publish: Writing for Boris: An Author/Writer’s Guide to Making the World Your Audience on Black Friday. The reality is people like buying things from people they know. I hope the blog allows readers to get to know me better.

4. I blog as an experiment. Sometimes, I’ll take a topic I think will rank high among the search engines, just to see how many “hits” I can get and where those hits come from across the world. Those posts are really fun.

5. But mostly, I think I blog to make people think. If my work can cause readers to pause for just a moment, like Bob’s words made me pause, reflect and assess, then for me, the job’s well done.

What Readers Say, and Where They Go

And I’ve had comments to all extremes.

  • The most read post on my site is this one. It’s the “About Steve” page. The fact this is the most read page on the site doesn’t surprise me – not because I’m awesomely interesting. But rather because readers like to “know” authors. It’s an advantage the newspaper reporter and TV anchors really don’t have.
  • In this post on a vote recently cast by U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) a reader called me a “left-wing liberal, extremist and unpatriotic.” I don’t agree with her, and I think she missed the message altogether. But it’s okay. I could’ve prevented her comment from going public, but I didn’t. If I open myself up to criticism through the blog, I must also welcome it.
  • This old post is read quite frequently. It’s one where I reflected on the death of my father 40 days after he passed away. It’s interesting how frequently the number “40” is searched on the web.
  • When a local TV anchor died about three months ago, I was compelled to reflect on his career. I knew there wouldn’t be that many tributes to his work, and it would be a shame not to have recognized his journalistic accomplishments. It’s obvious that people were hungry for information about Jack Hill, because his name is searched almost daily, and readers are directed to my blog just because it’s one of the few outlets that went into any detail about his life’s achievements.
  • Think “religion’s’ not an issue in the Obama-Romney race for the White House? Think again. The title of this post: Obama vs. Romney: What Would Jesus Do?, has been searched every day since publication. I think voters want to know which candidate most believes in Jesus, and it’s interesting that it’s something neither really talks about and probably never will.
  • This post holds the record for most hits in one day. It was one of those experimental posts made just a few days after Arkansas Razorback footballcoach Bobby Petrino was fired and justifiably denied the right to coach what could have been a national championship team. The post titled: “Here in Arkansas, It’s the Perfect Storm,” assessed the likelihood that Arkansas State University Coach Gus Malzahn would be enticed to make a new home across the state. For what it’s worth, I think the premise will still play out.

Some days you hit a home run, others, a simple single, and there are those many days when the bat never touches the ball. I’m just thankful to be in the game.

Thanks Bob, for inspiring a “metaphorical” post, and for making me a “daily read.”

See you in the lab.

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Wahhh Pig Sooie

Who am I? What am I doing here?” ~ vice presidential candidate, Admiral James Stockdale (1992)

The Woo is gone out of Woo Pig Sooie.

John L Smith fired

This says it all in Arkansas.

It happens to the best of them: the Tylenol scandal; New Coke, Coke-Classic debacle; Bill Clinton’s, “I never had sex with that woman.”

If ever there was a case study in crisis management, University of Arkansas Razorbacks Athletic Director Jeff Long now has one on his hands.

From the Spring Sunday when Bobby Petrino took an infamous motorcycle ride with a young athletic staff employee, to the Razorback‘s temporary Band Aid with John L. Smith, to losing to a “cupcake” in the Sun Belt Conference, to an embarrassing home wipeout at the hands of the Univerity of Alabama, then Rutgers … and in the midst of it all a series of incomprehensible statements made by Smith (including the latest today) and the apparent oversight of Smith’s $25 million in debt, Long is now far past the job of trying to prevent apathy among fans who were once hopeful for the Razorback’s first national championship in three decades.

He’s now faced with how to stop people from making a mockery of his school. That’s never happened before.

The word cited most often of Smith’s performance is “moronic.” He doesn’t even know where he is, folks.arkansas razorback football

A “Fire John L. Smith” Facebook Fan Page is gaining momentum.

Once loyal fans, even in the face of the most imaginable of circumstances, are now repugnant toward the program.

Truth is, Smith should have been dismissed in the post game following a historic shutout at the hands of the Crimson Tide when his team shut down. It certainly should have happened Saturday night after the Rutgers fiasco.

It’s no longer a matter of salvaging a football season. Now it’s a lot more.

It’s a control issue.

Some things are simply unpermissable.

Long is faced with the decision and showing his fan base the “unacceptability” of the circumstances.

I think you’ll see it in the next 24 hours.

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I Don’t Always Read Blogs, But When I Do…

Dos aquis man

“I don’t always read blogs, but when I do, I prefer the blogroll at http://www.stevenwwatkins.com” ~ Dos Aquis Man

The best bloggers I’ve come across know The Great Blogging Truth.

They know it takes more than good writing; and more than a good tech-savvy knowledge to get noticed.

The best bloggers know getting noticed requires a delicate blend of art and science. Good writing’s not enough. Techno-wisdom’s not enough. It requires a good bit of both.

I’ve always been a decent writer. But I’ve never been tech-savvy. Fortunately, WordPress is user-friendly enough, that over time, I’ve learned how to do things that better balance the blogging requirement of art and science.

Until recently, I thought a blog was the place where I went mudding in my 4-wheel drive.

Until recently, I thought a dashboard was the thing that collected dust in my truck.

Until recently, I thought a widget was one of those things the government made at $3,000 a pop.

And so it was just recently, I learned how to create a blogroll. It’s something I’ve wanted to add to my page from the beginning. There are so many great blogs out there, but a few always make me stop and take notice. The blogs on my blogroll are the ones that I’ll read beginning to end 100 percent of the time.

Thanks to these bloggers, and their good work for giving me pleasure, inspiration and knowledge I never had before – in no particular order:

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Bucket List Publications – A great site by Lesley Carter who challenges us to embracelesley carter bucket list adventure with no regrets. Periodically, she also has great advice about how to get better noticed in the blogging world. www.lesleycarter.wordpress.com

Catherine, Caffeinated – Catherine is an indie author with some of the best advice I’ve found to help weave your way through the world of self-publishing. Check out this post for her latest work affordably priced at $2.99. www.catherineryanhoward.com

Holly Michael’s Writing Straight – I got to know Holly after she nominated me for a undserved award, and immediately took notice of her work. She’s a published author, missionary, philanthropist and writes with a transparent style I really enjoy. Since our virtual introduction, Holly and I have even considered collaborating on some projects. www.writingstraight.com

Las Palmas Ecuador – Admittedly self-serving. I write periodically for this business blog. It’s aPuerto Cayo Ecuador developing beachside expatriate community in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. Dana and I are now building a home near this community. Working with this blog is one of the ways we live out our own personal adventures. Las Palmas has a great and informative website here. www.laspalmasecuador.wordpress.com

Let’s Go Digital – A blogsite by David Gaughran with terrific advice on self-publishing. I first became aware of David’s work through a book review post from Cristian Mihai. After reading the review, I immediately bought the book and it’s quite good. www.davidgaughran.wordpress.com

Let’s Overthink This – The title itself captured me from day one. I’m guilty. A diverse blog that challenges us to know when to go with our gut, or think things through. www.letsoverthinkthis.com

Los Rodriguez Life – Freshly pressed on a number of occasions, Javier and Leslie have a special talent for drawing attention to the things they do every day. Great photography, and their blog is enhanced with bi-lingual text, both English and Spanish. Their blog makes me feel like a voyeur. www.losrodriguezlife.com

Moment Matters – A great site encouraging us to pause and take in life’s simplest, and most pleasurable moments. Life doesn’t necessarily have to be that complicated. www.momentmatters.wordpress.com

blogsite of dana watkins

My Window 2 The World – Yes, this is my wife’s blogsite. Dana’s always had a special flair for photography. The photos on this site that chronicle her 2005 mission trip through Greece and Morocco show her real talent. www.mywindow2theworld.wordpress.com

Project 40

Project 40 – Suave, cool, sophisticated and cosmopolitan. I really like this guy. www.project-40.com

Hilary Billings

The Nomad Grad – Hilary Billings travels the world as a professional adventurer. She’s currently in Australia. Hilary uses her blog how to demonstrate some creative ways to travel and explore on a shoestring budget. If I could go back in time, I’d model many of the thing’s she’s now doing. www.nomadgrad.com

Truth and Cake – This site is hosted by an American, now living in Canada who’s married to a guy from South Africa. It’s the cleanest, classiest blog I’ve come across. Well designed, good writing, always a pleasure to read. www.truthandcake.com

Vocus Blog – These guys may now be the world’s leaders in social media marketing. They’re very good. How do I know? Recently, I was scouring the internet for advice on how to create an electronic newsletter for a client. I came across their site, made a few clicks, and within 30 minutes, they called me. Yesterday, I did an online-demo with a Vocus sales rep. They’re expensive, but very good. www.vocus.com

Latitude One – Again, self-serving. This is where I strictly focus on the adventures Dana and I enjoy in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. www.latitudeone.wordpress.com

Thanks to all the author-entrepreneurs of these sites who give me pleasure, encouragement and the inspiration to be more like them.

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(Timing + Buzz) x Tags = Blog Hits

It’s a formula that will demand blog hits every time. A recent event in my home town proves it works.

Quick Background: On the evening of July 28, a young man was arrested in Jonesboro, AR, handcuffed, and placed in the back of a patrol car. Moments later, he somehow managed to commit suicide.

The arresting officers were white. The man placed under arrest was black. And for several weeks to follow a divide between races went public. National news agencies from all the major networks covered the story, only adding to the local community buzz.

Ten days ago, Rev. Jesse Jacksoncame to Jonesboro to lead a prayer vigil and a

chavis carter and jesse jackson

Chavis Carter

peaceful march questioning the details (or lack thereof) of Chavis Carter’s death.

***

From a blogger’s perspective, a story like this has the perfect ingredients for a recipe that will set your blog afire.

When Jackson arrived, I spent no more than a grand total of 30 minutes snapping photos and doing a quick interview. But it was important to be there in a physical sense to observe and get a “feel” for the environment.

I came home, tired from a long day, and really didn’t feel like writing the full story, so I published an immediate tease with a photo of Jackson. The short post gave readers notice the story would appear on the blog first thing next morning. The tease story, a photo and one paragraph, generated hundred of blog hits over night while I slept soundly in bed.

Early the next morning, I wrote the full story with a headline designed to get search engine attention, tagged the photos and story with key words, and the blog lit up like a match.

Some readers even criticized the post for “stirring up a mess.” I’m okay with stirring up a mess when it’s based on facts and newsworthy events. The fact is, controversy generates attention.

Since the time of the original post more than 30 different phrases have been plugged into various search engines leading them straight to my blog.

In all, the original post’s had more than 1,500 hits, and a day hasn’t gone by when a search engine didn’t lead a reader to the story.

It’s an opportunity that presents itself more often than you may think.

Here’s another example:

Were there more hours in the day, I’d write an additional post today about Hurricane Isaac, a story that’s dominated the news for days. The hurricane, now a tropical

hurricane isaac

Arkansans will receive much needed rain from now Tropical Depression Isaac. Just a different angle to the story.

storm, soon to be a tropical depression, is headed straight up the gut of my home state. While it’s created havoc at the point of landfall, Isaac will bring much-needed rain to hundreds of thousands of acres devastated by drought conditions over the last four months.

Isaac is actually a positive weather event in my neck of the woods, and it would be a great angle for an original blog post. There’s just not enough hours in the day. But you understand the strategic potential.

When you’re presented with an opportunity that has the elements of timing and buzz, you can choose to make a small investment of time, think “tag-strategic,” and readers will come.

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The Weekend in Photos

The Refinery in Jonesboro

Sophie’s new TOMS from The Refinery.

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cocker spaniel photos

Snickers and Dana soaking up the last poolside days of summer 2012

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home oil

A welcome .9 inches of rainfall on Saturday. We haven’t had this much total in the last four months.

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flower gardening

The rainfall gives the zinnias one last, late summer flurry of color.

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gardening okra

…and the hope for a little late okra in the garden.

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Ordaining elders

Ordaining elders for a new church plant…Fellowship Bible Church – Paragould.

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summer 2012

Believe it or not, she really is a competitive swimmer.

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poolside angel

Our poolside angel.

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jonesboro ar

After church. Before lunch.

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fashion statement steven w watkins

Sophie says this image appears to be a egg. Actually, it’s a self-portrait of my latest fashion statement.

Should You Stir the Pot Just to Get Blog Hits?

(Blogger‘s Note: This post was inspired from several comments on a recent post at this site, particularly a comment from fellow WordPress blogger Rich Brown. Due credit also goes to an inspirational post from Copyblogger.)

***

stirring the pot stevenwwatkins

Should you stir the pot, just to get blog hits?

The short answer to this question is no.

The longer answer requires a few more keyboard strokes.

THE BACKGROUND

Two days ago, I wrote an objective, news-type post about a visit Jesse Jackson made to my hometown in Jonesboro, AR. Jackson was here to lead a prayer vigil and peaceful march to bring attention to the circumstances of the death of Chavis Carter, who on July 28, committed suicide by gunshot wound in the back of a police car.

Questions regarding how such circumstances could transpire have permeated the local community and added fuel to a growing racial divide.

I wrote this post about Jackson’s visit, and the post itself became nearly as controversial as the original circumstances that prompted it.

The post generated a number of comments, one of which challenged my right to “spread the mess” of the timely and newsworthy topic. And so I responded to the reader’s comment here.

Via social media, I’d been publicly accused of “spreading a mess,” and encouraged to “hush up.”

EVEN JUSTIN WILSON “STIRS UP” DIRTY RICE

I’ve written a number of posts that some might consider Christian genre. I’ve talked about forgiveness, compassion, etc., etc., but…

There are at least four things I will not tolerate:

1. Don’t mess with my wife.

2. Don’t harm a hair on my children’s head.

3. Don’t even think about limiting anyone’s freedom of expression.

4. Don’t hide behind your racial prejudice.

***

MY OPINION

Journalists have been “stirring the pot” since the time Galileo declared the world wasn’t flat.

We live in a great country that happens to be in a horrible mess. Never before have we been so divided along the lines of race, religion, life and opportunity. So much of it is, I believe, because we just don’t talk about it and reach across the lines of our discomfort.

So, back to the message. Is it okay to stir the pot just to get attention? No, not for that reason.

It’s okay to stir the pot when you passionately believe in a cause and wish to exercise your God-given right (moreover, your obligation) to take a stand, fulfill your purpose, and make a difference.

A wise man once told me that life’s not wrapped up in a pretty little package. We should be most concerned, he said, when we rest in the comfort and belief that we have things all figured out.

If you passionately believe in a cause, and genuinely want to make a difference, you’re not stirring any pots. You’re pursuing your destiny.

I HOPE THIS IS YOUR TAKEAWAY

The rights we all share to agree to disagree are a magnificent thing. We should never allow our uncomfortable disagreements to bring us to the point where we stop talking altogether.

If you’re standing and writing for the things in which you passionately believe, you’re not stirring any pots.

And we all benefit from the pursuit your higher calling.

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Related articles:

A Response to the Reader Who Made Me the Angriest I’ve Ever Been

freedom of expression

“I hate rude behavior in a man. Won’t tolerate it.” ~ Capt. Woodrow F. Call in Lonesome Dove

Most who read my work, know that while I’m opinionated, I’m about the easiest going guy in the world.

I’m also a professional. I’ve been paid to write my entire life, have 170 collegiate hours, two degrees and have published articles in two professional journals on the topic of communications law and ethics. And as a professional I have a VERY thick skin.

My work is out there for public consumption. I put it out there every day, and with that, comes any reader’s right to make fair comment and criticism. I welcome your critique, in fact. Make a claim I’ve failed to be objective. Say I’m in error some way. I’m okay with that. I’m here to defend my work, and if you prove me wrong, I’ll acknowledge it and do the right thing.

But there’s one thing you don’t do to me, or to any other person in this profession if I’m around.

You don’t question my RIGHT to freely express an opinion or publish an objective article. You want to fight? Just question that right, and we can stand toe to toe until the last man stands.

At 4:30 a.m. today (August 23, 2012), I made an objective post resulting from an interview I did with Rev. Jesse Jackson. Jackson was in my hometown yesterday leading a peaceful demonstration about the circumstances in which a young man committed suicide in the back of a patrol car. You may view that post here: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-C6

Jesse Jackson is a lightning rod, especially here in the South. People love him, or hate him, and it’s all totally beside the point. When it comes to free speech, Jackson has a right to do what he damn well pleases, and so do I.

Following my typical pattern for a worthy story, I reposted during lunch for the benefit of those who might have missed it in the early morning.

And moments later, a reader publicly posts on Facebook: “…no need to keep stirring this mess up,  Steve.”

He sucker punched me.

I turned red, and actually felt my body twitching. My blood boiled. Them’s fightin’ words.

It’s the one thing you don’t say to me. This mess, dear reader, is one of the critical issues of our time, and it’s now in my backyard, and in yours. Bury your head in the ground. It won’t solve the problem. It won’t go away.

It would have been so much better if you had just questioned the legitimacy of the story. We could have enjoyed a civil debate, as men should, and likely, would have come to terms to simply agree to disagree. But rather, you questioned my very right to freely express. We live in America, do we not?

FYI, critical reader, the messy post to which you refer, was read by more than 200 people on five continents, and was Google-searched internationally more than 30 times. I can make a case it had some redeeming value.

But the mess isn’t the issue here, sir. Forget the “messy” content that makes you so uneasy. (Though I guess you’re right in some regard: It would have been so much better if Woodward and Bernstein had avoided that whole Watergate thing altogether. It was SOOO messy.)

Step back, critical reader, take a breath, and remember that thing we call the First Amendment. I believe it has something to say about a thing we call freedom of expression.

And so I’ll express what I damn well please.

If it makes you uncomfortable, I’m glad. Black people and white people are at odds in this town for no good reason. I hope it makes us all squirm.

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An Interview with Rev. Jesse Jackson

Chavis Carter death Jonesboro, AR

Rev. Jesse Jackson in Jonesboro, AR just after a prayer vigil, and preparing to lead a downtown March as questions surround the death of Chavis Carter in the back of a local police car. Officials have ruled the death a suicide, but questions remain.

Tomorrow on this site:

An interview with Rev. Jesse Jackson on the death of Chavis Carter in Jonesboro, AR.