You have to stand up tall, with your shoulders back and, own the moment.
This is the companion essay to Episode #6 - Standing Tall on the Remember When...? Podcast.
When the Cookie Crumbles by Jack Elliott
Being a “content creator” is nothing new. Back in the day, newspaper columnists were the original content creators. Our “followers” were subscribers. The only algorithm we had, was delivered by the U.S. Mail or in later years, email. Such letters usually indicated a negative, while a new subscription was a positive indicator. There were no “likes or shares” and rarely did we receive praise. We received feedback via a phone call (preferred) or publicly via dreaded “Letters to the Editor.”
One letter sent to any newspaper’s “Letter to the Editor” in response to any story published in the paper, was said to represents one thousand readers. When one is a columnist for said newspaper, he can only hope to get enough readers, fired-up enough to write in to let the publisher know his column stirred something in the reader’s heart and mind, thus creating content that mattered; thus assuring that reader’s would continue or renew their subscription.
During my tenure at the Tracy Press Newspaper, I wrote nearly 200 columns. My column was called: “Thinking Out Loud.” and my topics ranged from philosophical insights around depression; the separation of church and state; and prayer in school. And while a few of my columns did provoke some great conversations. none of my columns provoked as much chatter and controversy as my column honoring Tracy’s famous ‘Cookie Lady.’ Here's the consensus for what I learned from the feedback received after that column was published.
Words matter. And words accidentally left out matter more. Here’s what happened:
Several years ago, I interviewed a local celebrity in Tracy Ca. No gathering was complete without her tasty cookies. Her cookies where so good that folks in the community deemed her to be: “The cookie lady.” Each Christmas she blessed many hospitals, veteran’s homes, retirement centers and community functions with her tasty delights. She was so popular that I begged her to share just one, simple cookie recipe for my readers to enjoy. So, after a bit more begging, she surrendered to my pleas and decided that her coconut sugar cookie recipe would satisfy my readers without divulging any secret ingredients used in her other famous cookies highly praised by her neighbors, veterans, and church members.
In my article, I lifted up her humanitarian efforts and the accolades and testimonies others had shared with me. I also included the recipe for the simple coconut sugar cookie. I asked my readers to make their own batch of cookies and then share what would no doubt be the praises they received with they shared their cookies with family and friends. That’s when the cookie crumbled.
When I arrived at work on Monday the newsroom was frantic with phones ringing and staff members yelling. Their email boxes were filled with letters proclaiming fraud and injustice throughout the town! Apparently, every email address was impacted, even the sports desk.
I didn’t know what it was, I just knew it was something big. Did a local politician get caught in a Ponzi scheme and have to resign? Did someone famous die? What could all this chatter be about? Then, we they all seemed to have noticed me, there was a chorus of: “Jack! What did you do?”
Apparently. cookies were crumbling all over town, and the ladies of Tracy were not having it. My phone was ringing with what seemed to be a heightened intensity. When I answered; even before I could complete my greeting of: “Thank you for calling the Tracy Press, this is Jack…” I was greeted with ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME?
It was the distraught Cookie Lady herself. Her phone had been ringing off the hook as well. Callers believed that their cookies had crumbled because she had intentionally led them astray. And they were claiming that she had led them astray so that she might maintain her title as Tracy’s Cookie lady. She wanted a retraction and she wanted me to fix it now. Apparently when we published the recipe, we omitted butter. And when cookies are void of butter they crumble. And that Saturday morning we had cookies crumbling all over town.
Boy, did that column [provoke conversation and get folks to think out loud. I'm sure there were probably some bakers in town who were also looking up recipes for “How to tar and feather a newspaper columnist'. But after she and I talked we decided the best way to handle the situation was to stand tall push our shoulders back and see it as a humorous event
In my next column, I fell on the sword and told my readers that I had been the one who omitted the word butter. I assured them I had learned my lesson. Words matter, but words omitted matter more. Her reign was reaffirmed, and her reputation restored. Once the retraction and the correct recipe was published, she actually gained more volunteers to help her with her philanthropic work.
And, for the remainder of my tenure no more cookies crumbled because of me. - Jack Elliott
Note: Jack Elliott was a columnist for three years at the Tracy Press in Tracy, CA. For 18 months he served as the "Our Town" weekend supplement as it's editor. Many of articles and columns are archived at the tracypress.com.