A steady stream of reader feedback on both sides of the spectrum is expected for any newspaper columnist doing their job. With the launch of the “Hate Mail” video series at the Washington Post, their team of opinion writers now has the ability to respond in a visual way, where every week, Post opinion writers react to reader comments in a short video posted to the paper’s official YouTube channel.
“Hate Mail” was one of the first ideas Michelle Jaconi, executive creative producer for the Post’s video team, said she pitched after joining the publication earlier this year.
“Today’s news environment can give the impression that journalism is a profession full of talkers and I wanted to show that we are also ‘listeners,’” Jaconi said. “This series highlights comments that range from endearing to highly critical, giving our readers a way to connect with our opinion writers as they respond to these comments.”
In addition, the series also addresses another key concept—trust.
“I think it is important for our audience to connect not just with names and bylines, but with faces and personalities,” Jaconi said. “At a time when people doubt institutions, ‘Hate Mail’ is a new way for us to help create a connection between readers and individual writers through video.”
According to Jaconi, the feedback from readers so far has been positive.
“I think people understand and appreciate a tone of playfulness at a time when that is rare,” she said. “It was also fun to see viewers and even some journalistic colleagues enjoy being able to peek at the writing environment and personal offices of our big columnists.”
One of the first to be featured in the series was columnist George Will, who started writing for the Post in 1974 and is a past Pulitzer Prize winner for Commentary.
“I inflict my opinions on large reading audiences and do not in the least mind gusts of counter opinion,” he said. “Most of the responses to my columns go, I think, to the 450 or so papers that carry them, so I do not see most of them. In any case, I look forward to another session with my spirited detractors.”
Jaconi said the video team will continue filming the series with plans to “feature more ‘stars’ in the franchise.” She credits Post columnists like Will and Charles Krauthammer for jumping on board with the series early on: “They are both such incredible intellectual forces that other columnists saw it and started emailing me that they wanted to try because Charles and George made it look so fun.”