I don't know Dave Begel, but I know a lot about him.
(I'm also going to prove his point for him, but more on that in a moment.)
I know he is a Milwaukee media legend, whose career arc has been fascinating, to say the least.
I know he covered the Green Bay Packers for The Milwaukee Journal during Bart Starr's coaching days, and their adversarial relationship reached epic proportions. When the legendary Starr, a Hall of Fame quarterback and classy man but a bad coach, accused Begel of tipping off opponents and banned all reporters from practice, Begel responded by standing on top of his car, using binoculars to look over the fence into practice to see what plays the Packers were running. I admire that.
I know after his sportswriting days, he wrote a column ("Leave it to Begel") in The Journal, worked in local TV, served as the spokesman for Milwaukee Public Schools and later as the media consultant to New York City's chancellor of public schools. He went into politics, working on Ed Garvey's campaign for governor, then serving as campaign manager for Gary George's run, which ended in controversy.
I know he's a gifted musician (rhythm guitar), dabbles in acting, appeared in the ESPN "SportsCentury" documentary on Starr (he's on imdb.com, just like I am for my appearance in the episode on Brett Favre), and once sold cars for Andy Schlesinger at Andrew Automotive Group, which means we have a mutual friend in Andy.
And I'm impressed. He's old-school, smart, charismatic, old-school, resourceful and old-school. In case you missed my point, Dave Begel is old-school. I was struck by just how old-school when I read his blog about my blog about reader feedback Tuesday afternoon.
Dave took exception to my writing about craving feedback, especially negative feedback. Then he offered "just a couple of words of advice for him, that might stand him in good stead as he grows older."
(Wait, wouldn't that qualify as feedback? I'll get back to that.)
Dave suggests that sportswriting is a performance job, not a consumer service job. Whereas consumer service jobs have a the-customer-is-always-right approach, people in performance-based jobs shouldn't much care about how people feel about them, he writes, "operating with a personal conviction and occasionally consults with his peers." (If this gets Dave off the feedback hook because he's a "peer," then I'm flattered he sees me as such.)
But where I think Dave misunderstood me is when he suggested that reader feedback might exert too much influence on how I do my job or might alter my judgment. That I might write to placate those squeaky wheels rather than doing the job properly. I don't think I use feedback in that way.
Personally, I think the fact that we can get immediate reaction to our stories right below the copy we've written is a valuable resource when utilized properly (the point of my original blog), and I think having readers e-mail their thoughts, opinions and questions makes me better at what I do. Back in the day, such interaction was limited to phone calls (I'm never at the number the Wisconsin State Journal lists on my stories, below my e-mail address) or the Sunday "Letters to the Editor" section.
Here's an example: On Drew Olson's 540 ESPN radio show, "The D-List," as well as Steve "The Homer" True's show, I've been critical of Brett Favre on many an occasion. Whether it's been interceptions he's thrown (the last pass of his career, anyone?) or his public hemming-and-hawing about unretiring (totally unfair to his replacement, Aaron Rodgers), if I've taken issue with something he's done, I've said so.
Many times, those comments have resulted in an onslaught of e-mails from people who love Favre more than they love some of their own family members. (I'm not saying that's necessarily wrong. Not knowing their families, they may be justified.) And many of those responses have been ad hominem attacks on my intelligence (and poor grammatical ones at that). They're often the same folks who are convinced general manager Ted Thompson is an idiot, and nothing he does (least of all last year's 13-3 record and NFC title game berth) will change their minds.
That kind of feedback arrives in the inbox and goes out the recycling bin. But then there was this one note, which pointed out -- politely and respectfully -- that my tone of voice sometimes changed when I talked about Favre. As if I was so sick of talking about him that my thoughts were colored by my annoyance of covering yet another maybe-he'll-unretire story.
Did I stop criticizing Favre? No. Did I think a little more about the manner in which I did it? Yes. Because I want my opinion to be taken seriously, I realized I can't sound like it's based more on Favre Fatigue than actual thought and reasonable argument.
I'm glad Dave thinks enough of my work to say I'm good at what I do, and that he cared enough to post his response to my little blog item. And I guess the fact that I'm thinking about what he wrote just goes to show, I do worry about what people say about me. Especially someone like Dave.
Jason Wilde, a Milwaukee native who graduated from Greendale Martin Luther High School and the University of Wisconsin, is a two-time Associated Press Sports Editors award winner and a Wisconsin Newspaper Association award winner.