Matt Driscoll

TNT columnist still hates Elf on the Shelf, but he’s got a few new ideas about the mailbag column

The News Tribune columnist Matt Driscoll answers his hate mail.
The News Tribune columnist Matt Driscoll answers his hate mail.

It’s time, once again, for my monthly, “You rip, I respond,” column.

You know how it works: Folks write or call, and I respond. Then hilarity and an occasional expletive ensues.

First, however, I’d like to briefly address — and then return to — the cliffhanger that last month’s column ended on.

The question I posed to readers went something like this:

I’ve been doing the mailbag column for more than a year now. There have been highs, and there certainly have been lows. So should it continue? Is there value in this exercise, or —like most exercise — has it simply become tiresome and grueling?

The response I received was impressive. More than 50 emails poured in, and — for the most part — people wanted the column to stick around. At last count, votes to keep the column were ahead by more than a 2-to-1 margin.

Still, valid concerns and critiques were raised. I’ve included a sampling below.

What have I decided? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.

First, however, a few of your regularly scheduled emails …

Yesterday’s column was sad. If you wrote it to spur comments, you’ll probably get plenty. If you truly don’t believe in keeping the spirit of Christmas alive, well and strong, how sad for you. I’m 72 and still believe. I can hear the bell ring. — Bill

Thanks for reaching out, Bill. Hope you had a very merry Christmas.

Bill’s email came in response to my now infamous Elf on the Shelf missive — in which I implored readers to ditch the surveillance state intruder before it’s too late.

Simply put, I don’t like the dang elf, and nothing this holiday season has changed my mind. I find the whole thing to be a contrived, market-tested “tradition” — forced down our throats by the capitalist pigs at Big Elf and the unsuspecting children they’ve swindled.

I am happy Bill still believes in Christmas, however. And, for the record, I do, too. I’d just prefer to focus on the things the holiday should be about — like spending time with your family, generosity, goodwill toward men (and women) and overeating.

I am not sure how old your children are. I think that anything the adds to the magic of Christmas is a wonderful thing. Children already grow up so fast, so why rush it? I will be 61 this December, and I find this Elf fun. So you don’t have to be little to enjoy the Elf magic. — Twyla

Begrudgingly, I’ll admit Twyla has a point here. While my children survived the absence of Holly, our now unemployed Elf on the Shelf — and we found plenty of ways to enjoy the magic of Christmas without her — what makes the holidays so special is the kids. There’s definitely something to be said for suspending disbelief and reveling in that (even when it involves being swindled by the aforementioned capitalist pigs at Big Elf).

I don’t like being critical, but if I may suggest couple things. First, I find your writing very wordy. Many, many words with little substance. Maybe you can figure out how to condense/edit so the reading has more value per word.

Second I’d like to see you report more on both city and county councils. Be at every meeting large or small. Maybe there isn’t enough for a column, but your column could have two subjects. With reducing a wordy column there would be enough space for a report if news is short on substance. I feel there isn’t enough reporting on their efforts. They both need scrutiny.

Good luck with your career. — Bill

Thanks, Bill. Glad you don’t like being critical. I’ll let you know how that whole “career” thing works out for me.

In the interest of brevity, I will fully endorse your call for coverage — and scrutiny — of our local elected bodies. We’re currently working to hire a replacement for the great Candice Ruud, who left the paper for greener pastures earlier this year. Hopefully the position will be filled soon. The paper has certainly been lacking without it.

Now, on to readers’ responses to the Great Mailbag Conundrum of 2018 …

I am amazed at the emails you receive and often laugh at your responses, so I enjoy the entertainment, but being now a year into it the “rants” are becoming a bit predictable. … We’ve seen it, we get it, time to move on. — Don

I’d like to see you continue to write that column. You have an entertaining, liberal slant of writing. I don’t necessarily agree with much of what you write, but I do enjoy reading it and respect your opinion, plus I’m entertained by some of the inane comments by your readers. … Especially when opinions differ among individuals, this country needs more civil discourse not less. Your column helps to provide that. — Matt

I would recommend you stop. An anonymous venue always brings out the worst in people. — Dieter

I enjoy your (mailbag columns) and hope you continue them. I wouldn’t say that if you were ripping back, but your reasoned responses are an example of how we wish everyone would speak to each other. I admire your restraint, because I know it is tempting to respond in kind. — John

Our nation’s political and social turmoil has reached deplorable levels. I don’t believe your Sunday articles are helping the situation. … Please, no more! — Gary

I know that you get complaints about your column. But keep it coming. I really appreciate the research and insights. And I DO appreciate your detractors as they awaken me to the fact that there are people with other points of view. (I tend to see them as ignorant or prejudiced but eye-opening.) — Sue

Thanks, one and all, for taking the time to respond to last month’s call for comments. I read every one of them, and — together — it gave me plenty to think about.

Here’s what I’ve decided:

The column will stay. For whatever reason, it resonates with people. My doctor even commented on it the other day, and usually he just talks about my cholesterol level. For all the columns I write that I’m truly proud of, this is the one that people always want to stop and talk about. There’s something to be said for that.

But this column will change, at least slightly. In the coming year, I will put an added emphasis on finding thoughtful, thought-provoking emails to feature here. Sure, I’ll still include a handful of ridiculous ones — because they’re fun, and I’m weak — but I’ll try my best to up the IQ so it bears less resemblance to something your drunken, racist uncle posts on Facebook.

There is a catch in that, of course: It depends on you, the readers, to actually send me these emails. Whether you agree or disagree with the columns I write, I look forward to your constructive feedback. Based on last month’s experience, I know you’re up to the challenge.

That’s a long way of saying (sorry, Bill), that hopefully over the next 12 months this column will become more of a community dialogue and less of an occasionally entertaining dumpster fire behind a bile recycling plant.

On that note, what would you like me to focus on in 2019? What are the issues facing Tacoma and Pierce County that are going unreported, or under-reported?

What stories deserve to be told, and how can I — and The News Tribune — do better?

Fire away. Seriously.

Finally, I’ll leave you with one last email …

Do not quit writing your columns for the Tacoma Trib. It isn’t necessary for everyone to agree with you. Your columns are interesting and informative and sometimes controversial. That’s good. So please don’t quit. — Susan

Thanks, Susan. I appreciate the kind words. Also, you weren’t the only person who mistakenly thought I was asking whether or not I should continue at The News Tribune.

For the record, if I do ever contemplate quitting the paper, I won’t put the decision up for a public vote.

I’ll probably just take my Evergreen State College coffee mug and leave.

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.

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