Last week, the Charleston City Paper released the results of their annual Best of Charleston Readers' survey. Congratulations quickly spread around town, but not everyone shared in the happiness. Many people noticed a snarky section just below the poll results. This section labeled "Critics' Picks" was a hand-selected list of categories chosen by City Paper staff.
I probably wasn't the only one confused to see a wave of insults peppered throughout the staff picks. Few people associate the best things in Charleston with categories titled "Best Burglary Victim," "Best Excuse to Launch a Boycott," and "Best Weekly Collection of Blunders."
Did you ever wonder what it's like to be on the receiving end of one of these categories? Well, imagine for a moment that you're a local CofC student who wants to make a difference in the community. You've spent months organizing a large event to raise money for your favorite charity. Your event is held at an outdoor venue and is heavily weather dependant. Unseasonably frigid temperatures keep the turnout lower than expected, but you persevere and fight hard to raise funds for a worthy cause.
Now imagine waking up two months later and seeing that your event was criticized in the newspaper. Would this seem strange to you? Well, this is the story behind Gaga Day, which received the honor of being named the "Best Example of the Sophomore Slump."
Look, I know it's not a newspaper's job to support the community, but it's also not their job to go out of their way to belittle it. The simple question I'd like to know is why make a conscious effort to put down a local fundraiser?
A few people have argued the category was only meant to criticize the event and not the person who created it or the charity being donated to. Come on, really? If someone criticized the Lowcountry Heart Walk do you honestly believe the American Heart Association wouldn't feel criticized too? What if someone criticized the City Paper? How do you think the writers might feel? That's because praise and criticism are shared in these situations.
If that wasn't enough, here are the last lines written by City Paper Managing Editor Chris Haire about the Gaga Day charity event: "One and done, folks. One and done." Not only does this insult the past event, but it also cripples the potential for a bounce-back year through negative branding.
You may be wondering where to draw the line. Well, it comes down to the psychological factor at play. When politicians, large events, and celebrities are made fun of, most people can sit back and have a good laugh because it's outside their perceived reality. When the criticism hits local, non-celebrity status individuals, small venues, and area events, it's easy to see how the same sarcasm that was once funny starts to appear vastly different. Jokes and humor can quickly begin to look like sarcasm and insults.
So where can we go from here? I've always been a firm believer that if you point out a problem, you better follow it with a solution. Here are mine:
Change the Title. Don't sell me a bag that's labeled apples if you damn well know it's filled with oranges. Just the same, don't label an issue "The Best of Charleston" if you plan on it including a hodgepodge of best, worst, and a dose of random. Why not shift the title more in the direction of "Charleston 2010: A Year in Review"?
Use Two Issues. If you'd like to keep the title, then try splitting the issue in half. The first will contain the actual Best of Charleston Readers' poll results and the following issue can publish the more sarcastic yearly review by the staff. The Best of Charleston title gets saved, the staff keeps their satirical-styled branding, and the annual online traffic spike happens for two weeks instead of just one (a win-win-win).
Watch the Sarcasm. Regardless of the decision, make sure to take extra time before publishing to check where the sarcasm really points. After all, there are only a few people fighting hard to make what's best in Charleston even better, and who would want to criticize them?