Let’s Pick a Fight With an Opinion Writer!

Doesn’t that sound like a winning strategy – to pick a fight with a contributor to the opinion pages of the tenth largest newspaper in America?

Yup, it just happened. To me. Over this.

Stein InnThat’s right. Someone read my Chicago Tribune personal essay about bed and breakfasts. My main point was that I’m not a fan. I think it’s a strangely co-dependent business model.   Fawning over the host’s recipes and decorating decisions is part of the price of admission. I prefer an anonymous room in an anonymous hotel. B&B’s are too close for comfort.

There’s a trade group for everything, and the executive director of an association of purportedly upscale inns decided to ream me out for my lighthearted essay.

Here’s what landed in my inbox:

I read your opinion piece about your unpleasant stay at some unnamed B&B in Northern Vermont.  Having represented the B&B industry for a long time, I hate to hear about negative experiences.
But, may I ask, what was the purpose of your piece?  Why did you feel compelled to use such a high profile opportunity to be so negative?  This isn’t a rhetorical question – I’m truly curious about the motivation or reasoning behind the publication of it.  You are a communications specialist who flexed her mastery of the English language in such a negative way.  It was surprising.  
Let’s unpack his assumptions:
  • I have a secret agenda for writing about a personal experience (after all, I was ‘compelled’; I have a ‘purpose’; and I have a ‘motivation’)
  • I’m “negative” X 2. He didn’t just disagree with me. He made a character judgment.

Here’s the truth: I had fun writing about a series of similar experiences at a particular type of establishment.

That’s it.

Here’s how I responded:

The point of a personal essay is to convey personal experience and a personal point of view. That’s what I wrote, and that’s why my essay was published in Perspective, the Tribune’s opinion section. 
You seem to think that B&B’s exist in a protected bubble and should be immune from comment. Nothing is – or should be – immune from comment in newspaper opinion pages.  
Of course, that didn’t end it. He continued to bray and I tried to wiggle away from his scolding and finally I just deleted his emails.
How my critic views bed & breakfasts

How my critic views bed & breakfasts

    Here’s a guy who represents supposedly the upper crust of an industry category that I think can be dusty, and sometimes crusty.
How I see bed & breakfasts

How I see bed & breakfasts

He had a chance to persuade me to think differently. Instead, he was petulant and paranoid. He could have simply introduced himself and his organization and said, “If you ever consider giving our industry a third chance, please let me know and I can help find the right fit.” That would have been gracious. And, to the point of his professional responsibilities, it would have turned his annoyance with my piece into a tiny step towards relationship.
Instead, he wrote what he did. I wrote this. And you’re reading it.