Probably the hardest thing to do in putting a newspaper together is picking comic strips.
You might think it would be deciding which investigative story to pursue or what headline to put on a big story or which photo to run on the front page.
But ask any editor to tell you some war stories, and inevitably you will hear about how the 'toon wars were the bloodiest. Newspaper readers take their comic strips seriously.
Augusta readers are no different. The Augusta Chronicle replaced Curtis with The Boondocks a few weeks ago, and the phones haven't stopped ringing. Most of the people who have called or written are bothered by the hard edge of the new strip.
Some say the language is not appropriate or the content is too violent. Others just don't think it's funny.
I understand all those points of view, and they certainly are valid. A few of the early strips have made me wince, and they haven't all been funny. I appreciate the fact that so many people care enough about The Chronicle to voice their opinion. But I would politely point out that if you don't like this strip, it probably isn't being written for you.
We don't just drop random strips or columns in the paper for no reason. We try to present various viewpoints. We talk to a lot of people before we add or drop something, but most of those decisions are made by Features Editor Elizabeth Adams with advice and consent from me and Managing Editor Will Kennedy.
Her thoughts on this subject are so eloquent, I thought I'd let Mrs. Adams explain why this strip appears in The Chronicle.
"What attracted me to The Boondocks was that it's different," she said. "I've learned that for a newspaper to appeal to all types of people, we must include a cornucopia of information. I'm not a racing fan, but I'm glad we have a weekly NASCAR page in the paper for people who are.
"I was intrigued by the nation's first `hip-hop comic strip.'
"I only need to spend a few minutes in one of our Teen Board meetings to find out how unhip I am. These young people have their own agenda, their own style, their own vocabulary! I wonder, how can I possibly relate to them, understand them, give them something they want to read in the paper?
"That desire to connect is what prompts us to buy new columnists, comics and other features. I'm grateful this newspaper is willing to try new things. Imagine what the paper would be like if we didn't.
"I hope readers understand that this is a satirical strip. It uses hyperbole and sarcasm to poke fun at things like prejudice and stereotyping. Its goal is humor, but it goes about it in a different way than most of our comics. Its subject matter, too, is unlike our other strips'. But that's what I like about it.
"This comic has only appeared in The Chronicle for three weeks. The artist is very aware of the uproar of criticism. I think we should give him time to respond. That would be fair, and it's the way most of us would like to be treated in a similar situation."
The strip has ruffled feathers in many of the 180 communities where it is published. It is drawn by black cartoonist Aaron McGruder, 24, who hopes readers will give it a chance.
"I'm very much aware of what I'm doing, and it's not The Cosby Show," Mr. McGruder told the Chicago Tribune. "I know that discussing race on the level of honesty and frankness that I do makes certain people uneasy. That's too bad."
Mr. McGruder, who majored in black studies at the University of Maryland, said the strip is not just a series of inside jokes for blacks at the expense of whites.
"Everybody in the strip gets made fun of at sometime," he said. "Riley, for instance, is a knucklehead who has bought into the crime and violence of the culture. He's there to show how silly that is. If people give the strip time, that will come out. I think it's a far more effective way of showing the issue of teen violence than `Just say no."'
A good newspaper is like a good cafeteria: It has something for everyone. You shouldn't like everything in a newspaper. If everything we publish every day makes all our readers happy, we haven't done our job. We're either too bland, or aiming for too small a group of readers.
As the last real mass communications medium in America, the newspaper has an obligation to include items for all groups of society. Not every comic strip is in the paper because I like it. Not every sports story is written about sports in which I'm interested.
But day after day, week after week there should be enough of interest to me as a reader to keep me coming back. Unfortunately for many American newspapers there hasn't been much variety, and as they have gotten blander the readers have gone elsewhere for their information.
We have to connect with each of you in a way that is meaningful to you. For some people, that is coverage of City Hall. For others it's football or baseball coverage. For some it's recipes, for others it's coverage of music, gardening or the latest fashions. But if you don't find your lifestyle covered somewhere in our paper, you will stop buying it.
The reaction to The Boondocks reminds me of how many people reacted when Calvin and Hobbes first appeared. It was viewed as violent, rebellious, threatening parental authority. But over time it became one of the most popular comic strips ever published.
The Boondocks may never reach those heights, but it has the same nerve-jangling edginess that often helps us recognize our own foibles.
Comics are not now and never have been just warm, fuzzy things to make us laugh. They always have been social commentaries, dating back to the original comic strip, The Yellow Kid. Each artist has a different style, and it could be that Mr. McGruder's is a little too blunt for some people.
Many of you already have contacted us to express your opinion of The Boondocks. If you haven't had time, please call INFOLINE at 442-4444 and press 2003. You will be asked to leave your name and phone number and the reason you like or dislike the strip. We've set up this line so we can take your calls through the holiday weekend.
As with all our regular features, we continue to evaluate The Boondocks. Your opinions will be valuable to us as we try to publish a newspaper that is useful to all the people in our community.
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