Former Mercury reader Edith writes, “My best friend and I had lunch today at our favorite pub that carries your paper. I looked over my friend’s shoulder at a number of pages and remarked to him how ugly the paper had gotten. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘small type and hard to read’ and I noticed that all the photos and ads looked like garbage.

“What have you done to make this paper such a bad mess?

“I don’t care for your music focus as I am older and not into the scene, but I used to enjoy perusing the paper. No more! Bye.”

Wow. WowWowWowWowWow. Edith is putting me in a very difficult position. On one hand, I adore letters from readers—even mean, unhelpful ones. And yet I think there’s something going on here that I have no control over, and I’m not sure how to break it to Edith without coming off like a jerk. But... being a jerk has never stopped me before, right? SO LET’S DO THIS!


Edith first noticed how “ugly” the paper has gotten after looking “over my friend’s shoulder at a number of pages.” First of all, reading over someone’s shoulder is (at least) annoying and (at most) rude. Edith did this over the course of “a number of pages,” meaning it could’ve gone on anywhere from two minutes to an hour, depending on how slowly the friend was reading.

But let’s be gracious and assume the friend was flipping through the paper at a reasonable pace, and Edith was only looking over his shoulder for a minute or so. Does this make Edith a “rude person”? I would say no—except for the fact she also wrote a mean letter filled with unconstructive criticism. Therefore it’s safe to assume that Edith is actually really fucking rude. However! BEING REALLY FUCKING RUDE IS NOT EDITH’S PRIMARY PROBLEM.


Edith’s “best friend” thinks that the Mercury’s font size is now “small” and “hard to read.” (There’s the possibility the friend was just agreeing with Edith to make her stop reading over his shoulder... or maybe Edith doesn’t have a best friend at all and is just making him up? All I’m saying is that it’s a weird detail to add to a letter. But, again, let’s give Edith and her “best friend” the benefit of the doubt.) While the Mercury did change its font in 2018, it is absolutely not any smaller and is in some cases even bigger and easier to read. (I bolded that to make sure Edith could read it.) Add this information to Edith’s throwaway comment about not caring for our music focus because now she’s “older,” and... well, let’s hold off on making any conclusions until after....


There are a number of explanations why a newspaper could look like “garbage”: Printing mistakes, ink oversaturation, improperly submitted ads, human error, or something as simple as “poor design”—which I would strongly argue against, since the Mercury is regularly lauded for having one of the best designs in the country by PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT.

So. What did I do to “make this paper such a bad mess”? That’s hard to say, Edith! But here’s what I promise I’ll do: I’ll put on my glasses—which were prescribed because I’m getting older and there’s no shame in that—and I’ll look at our paper again... with fresh eyes that have glasses on them. And I’ll do this from a normal distance and not over anyone’s shoulder. Thanks for writing!

(I think I handled that very well.)

Yours in good ocular health,
Wm. Steven Humphrey
Portland Mercury