116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
This November, I’m thankful for many things, among them: Surviving the worst cold I’ve had in years, professional success with a decent paycheck and the single victory my Cyclones have had over a ranked team.
I’m also thankful for the opportunity to write a newspaper column that people actually read. I know they’re reading it because some have taken the time to comment. Today, at the halfway point of this one-year editorial fellowship, I’m sharing some of my favorite reader responses.
Steven from Ladora sent a lovely note written on six index cards to thank me for my first column in May about a proposed ethanol fuel mandate in the state Legislature. His opposition to the legislation stemmed from how it would affect him personally if non-ethanol gas were more expensive and harder to find for his pre-2001 vehicles. I hope Steven has enough index cards left to write his local legislators, as I expect the proposed mandate to be a key battle in the 2022 session.
Many reader responses, like Steven’s, are based on personal experiences. On Facebook, a teacher with hearing loss who relies on lip-reading to communicate shared her story after reading my Sept. 25 column exploring consequences of school mask mandates. “I actually had to be reassigned for part of the year last year because I was unable to communicate with my students at a level where I felt comfortable in the classroom,” wrote the teacher. “I'm facing the real possibly of having to make a full on career change to work from home or some other less interactive position due to the lack of a plan or any parameters to end mask wearing.”
The column on mandatory masking received much response. It may be surprising to some that the majority of it was favorable. “In my opinion, you are spot on!” wrote Annette from Cedar Rapids. The best feedback came from a former school superintendent from an Eastern Iowa metro school. “All means all,” wrote the retired educator, who still holds a prominent position in public education, “and a mask mandate should not get in the way of a child’s right to learn.”
Not every response I’ve gotten is positive, nor have they all been friendly. Sara, a lawyer from Cedar Rapids, was apparently offended that I raised concerns about mask mandates and looked me up on Twitter, calling my opinion “uneducated” and my research “a joke.” I’m not sure what kind of value Sara thought that would bring to the conversation, but I’ll write the same thing now that I told her then: I stand by every fact I researched, every anecdote I shared and every word I wrote.
Laura Belin of the Bleeding Heartland blog seemed miffed when I quoted her in my June 20 column. I’d written about State Auditor Rob Sand accusing Gov. Kim Reynolds of violating a law prohibiting her from using public dollars to fund ads bearing her name, likeness or voice. I had cited Belin’s statement, “My non-lawyer’s reading of the relevant statutes aligns with the governor’s interpretation,” to demonstrate that even some Democrats appeared skeptical of Sand’s claim.
“This column misrepresents my reporting as supporting your assessment,” Belin told me on Twitter. When I suggested that my wording accurately described her commentary, she defaulted to telling me that I was “regurgitating” others’ talking points and “not adding value for Gazette readers.” I was surprised that a well known political writer would have such a thin skin when it came to her words being cited by writers she didn’t agree with.
By contrast, Pat Rynard of Iowa Starting Line showed no such petulance when I more or less called him a sellout in my July 7 column titled “Fake news in Iowa: If you can’t beat’ em, join ‘em?”
Bonnie, a retired teacher from Cedar Rapids, was cordial when disagreeing with my take from my Aug. 28 column. In “Some concepts are unfit for Iowa public schools,” I expressed hope that students in Iowa schools weren’t actually being taught that their moral character was tied to their skin color. Bonnie’s recommended cure for unconscious racism was to read a 496-page book that apparently blew her mind. “My copy is heavily underlined and tagged,” she wrote. “I plan to reread it, summarize it, and pass those summaries off to friends who may not want to devote the time to the whole book. It is that important. Please read it.”
Speaking of woke white women and their suggestions to solve complex and nuanced problems spanning centuries, my June 12 column, titled “Woke white women are not helping” received a number of responses, 100 percent of which were complimentary. “Thank you for putting words to my exact feelings!” wrote a reader named Sarah. “I have a feeling the white woke ladies’ intentions are motivated by getting the focus on themselves rather than helping alleviate racism,” added Margaret from Marion.
My family has gotten in on the feedback to my columns as well and that’s been … interesting. When I wrote about the measures taken by Gov. Reynolds to ensure that Iowans weren’t being incentivized to avoid returning to work after COVID-related unemployment, my mother Julie’s main take-away was how I cited candy and toilet training toddlers as one of several examples illustrating the effectiveness of incentives. “Althea wrote about how I potty-trained her with M&Ms!” she told our extended family and a number of her friends.
But the best feedback I ever got to any of my articles came from my dad, Stu Cole, just last week after my article about dark money in the Cedar Rapids mayoral race broke the story of an unregistered political action committee acting in potential violation of state ethics rules.
“It’s days like this I wish Grandma and Grampa were still alive. I’d be on the phone to them right now,” he texted me.
I’d like to think Bob and Mary Lou Cole would have been proud of their only granddaughter for becoming a newspaper columnist, as would have my other grandmother, Arlene Carson. I can picture her clipping my articles to show her friends.
Shortly before it became time to sell her house and move into senior living, Grandma Arlene told me that several random strangers had recently brought her gifts and shoveled her snowy driveway. When she fretted about how to thank them when she didn’t know their identities, I suggested submitting a letter to The Gazette, which we sat down and wrote together on her ancient computer. The letter still is on the paper’s website. Grandma Arlene was a loyal Gazette subscriber until the day she died. I like knowing that her name is lovingly mentioned here in something other than her obituary.
I did not expect at the beginning of this year that I would be writing a newspaper column and enjoying the challenge. Your feedback has made this experience even more gratifying. I’m excited to share more of my thoughts with you over the next six months. I hope you’ll continue to share yours with me.
Althea Cole is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org