We lost a relatively new subscriber a few months ago. Something we said had vexed him, and he wanted me to know he was cancelling in protest. Besides, he said, "Look at all the negative letters in your magazine. You're slipping." Or words to that effect.
I wrote back to say I was sorry we were losing him, but also to point out that we actually have a choice of letters to publish, and that we tend to publish the critical ones—at least those that have something useful to say, like Gordon Torresen's across the way—before we publish the ones that have compliments in them. It's not a matter of wearing an editorial hair-shirt; it's just that we don't have room for everything, and the constructive criticism is often worth more—it gets us all farther along the path to understanding the subjects we're dealing with.
We get plenty of letters that begin with things like, "I told my friends that PS was the ultimate authority, and that you would be able to answer this once and for all..." While they're momentarily nice to read, letters like that make us wince as much as the ones that say we don't know Jack from Shinola, because both extremes miss the point.
There's no such thing as absolute "authority" in the world of boats and boat gear. The word itself asks for trouble. Journalists who cover a specific topic for a long time can accumulate quite a bit of knowledge; however, none of us can ever know enough. And yet the deadlines arrive like...well, like deadlines. So there's often an aftermath to our coverage, for better or worse.
While we offer product comparison data that the glossy sailing magazines avoid, our initial background coverage of a topic is often no better. However, because our editorial schedule isn't linked to ad sales campaigns, we can afford something the glossies can't, and that's follow-through. If at first we don't understand enough, we can try again. We have, for example, kept cranking that diesel article from the February 1 issue, via Mailport, because the results of that survey were surprising to so many, including us. In the aftermath, Yanmar, which rated poorly, has received a lot of well-reasoned support.
Of course, we've also had letters from Yanmar-hating readers, excoriating us for second-guessing a group of professional mechanics we enlisted in the first place.
Letters are all part of the story; the accumulated, revised facts of these matters (as opposed to heated, affronted reactions) are worthy parts of the information continuum between readers, manufacturers, and us. It's nice when there's a clear truth or trend to be discovered, but oftentimes all we can hope for is to keep moving toward a better understanding of that boat or bit of gear, relative to others of its kind. In that process, PS can always afford to hazard an opinion or open a can of worms, when the ad-driven magazines have to be a bit more circumspect. In truth, there's some honest, risky opinion in the editorial matter of the better ad-driven sailing magazines, and I can tell you from experience that there is fallout from advertisers, which those magazines balance as best they can against their bank accounts and the interests of their readers. The readers rarely get to see that fallout, though, much less join in, because it's managed, perforce, behind closed doors. Here again, PS is rich, because to us fallout is a valuable commodity that turns into content and educates us all.
Break/Break. I had a nice last paragraph in here with a lot of mixed metaphors, but just as we were putting this issue to bed, we got a blast from Erik Norrie, CEO of New Nautical Coatings, regarding our bottom paint story in April. He's angry, and he has a point. So we've rearranged Mailport to make room for the blast and response. And we'll stand by for the fallout.