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Goodbye, and thanks for all the criticism

Jeremy Klaszus defers to reader feedback in his final column for Metro

Jeremy Klaszus is signing off as Metro Calgary's Urban Compass columnist after three years.

Contributed

Jeremy Klaszus is signing off as Metro Calgary's Urban Compass columnist after three years.

After three-plus years of writing columns about Calgary for Metro, this is my final missive.

As I wrap up, I feel a little akin to a preacher reflecting on a stack of old sermons. There have been a handful of winners, a bunch of okay ones and the odd stinker.

Readers had a pretty good idea of which was which. They often wrote to let me know. That’s one of the things I’m most grateful for as I step back from this gig.

In a world of quick, impulsive social media praise and condemnation—of so much polarization and noise—I’m thankful for those who took the time to share criticism (usually by email) in a thoughtful, constructive way.

Such feedback keeps a writer fair and honest. And it brings one back to the basic principles of good writing—applicable not just in journalism, but in any field.

In a column last month, for example, I complained of a vehicular arms race on Calgary streets, fuelled by an auto industry that keeps selling bigger, “safer” vehicles that threaten other users of the street. “Lay down your weapons,” I wrote.

After that column ran, I heard from Tom: “Such hyperbole... ‘Lay down your weapons’—really? Since when is a driver intentionally looking to hit a cyclist?”

Whenever I received emails like this, my first impulse was to get defensive and double down on my original argument. But at some point I stopped replying to emails right away, and found that this helped a lot.

When I returned to the email after a few days, I often realized that the reader was sharing insight I needed to hear.

Tom had made the same point that William Strunk and E.B. White articulated in The Elements of Style, a slim book packed with writing wisdom.

“Do not overstate,” it says. “When you overstate the reader will be instantly on guard, and everything that has preceded your overstatement as well as everything that follows it will be suspect… A single overstatement, wherever or however it occurs, diminishes the whole.”

More recently, last week, I wrote about the pedestrian tunnel under Macleod Trail by Chinook Centre—how it’s gross, scary and ugly. Colleen wrote to express disappointment with my one-dimensional take, given that it’s known as a place where homeless people sleep.

“It is unfortunate your article didn't discuss the social problems in our city which exist in the tunnel and numerous hidden places in the city and ways to deal with them instead of focusing on the ‘aesthetics’ of the tunnel,” she wrote.

That column had been bugging me after I sent it in, and she put her finger on where it came short.

I’m going to miss these insights from readers. I’ve enjoyed being part of the lively conversation about where Calgary is headed.

Keep it going.

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