Sunday, April 26, 2020

Reader bugged by newspaper ad

Subscribers to the print edition of a large newspaper in a Northeastern city continue to get their newspapers delivered early every morning, wrapped in a plastic bag and tossed toward their front doors.

"I'm old school," writes a reader we're calling Mary when it's pointed out to her that she could read a facsimile of her morning newspaper online. "I like getting the physical paper and spreading it out to read on the kitchen table while I have my morning coffee."

Mary also appreciates that the newspaper publisher has not furloughed its delivery people, placing them among the ranks of workers who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

What Mary doesn't appreciate are the full-page advertisements that have been running every day for the past several weeks from a local car dealer. The ads are innocuous enough. The dealership owner's face is pasted up top with a message to loyal customers. In the ad, the dealer points out that while the showrooms are closed because of a mandate by the state's governor, the service departments are all open and the website is updated regularly.

"What a waste of money," Mary writes. "Anyone who looks at his website or calls the dealer would know the service department was open." She believes the money would be better spent to continue paying salespeople whose jobs might be on hold while the showroom is closed. Or to donate the money spent to any number of efforts being made to support victims of COVID-19 or the caregivers tending to them.

"It just seems wrong for him to be touting his company now," she writes. "If he wants to show support to his loyal customers, he should support the customers and the community affected by the virus."

She also writes that she has never purchased a car from his dealership so she understands that the ads might not be directed at her. "Still, it's a waste," she writes. "And it bugs me."

Mary raises an interesting point. It would be good to consider how the dealership owner might have put his resources to the best use while his showrooms are closed. It's likely, however, that he has made this calculation.

And his full-page advertisements are not simply self-serving. For one thing, the revenue from the advertisements help fund the newspaper Mary enjoys receiving every morning. These revenues also help ensure that there are enough funds to continue paying her longtime delivery person.

If Mary had checked the dealership's website, she would note that it also has helped and continues to support several area hospitals that are now on the front lines of treatment coronavirus patients, as well as dozens of community organizations.

Sure, it would be nice to be able to tell any company owner what to do with his money. The newspaper advertisements might bug Mary, but the right thing is to determine if the good the dealership owner does outweighs any slight irritation she may face as she unfolds her newspaper across her table every morning.

That's Mary's call, but it strikes me there is more good here than bad. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 


Sunday, April 19, 2020

We do what we can to be decent

Every morning since March 16, I have posted a poem or a portion of a poem to Twitter and Facebook. There was nothing magical about choosing March 16 as the day on which to start these posts, other than that it was the first day that I and my colleagues had been instructed via email in boldface type to "shift to remote work only."

So, we shifted. And with that shift, many of us began to look for ways to bring some sense of normalcy to our lives in what clearly are not normal times. We set up at home to work remotely recognizing that many others did not have the luxury to do so.

There was no remote for doctors, nurses, police, fire fighters, EMTs and other first responders who continued to do their jobs. The same is true for the grocery store workers who continued to stock shelves and keep their doors open. And the package and mail deliverers who never stopped. There was also no remote work for the millions of people who suddenly found themselves out of work as companies put operations on hold and furloughed employees.

For those of us who are more fortunate and can try our best to do remote work, we still look for ways to bring normalcy to our lives. For me, some of this has been looking to the words of others whose poetry of hope, struggle, kindness, tragedy, love, neglect and triumph continues to direct a focus on the continued struggle each of us faces to try do good even when the obstacles are many.

There are many challenges to being housebound, though even more to being homeless during a time when public health offices are trying to dampen the spread of disease. Still, those of us fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads look to find ways to build a routine so that we don't lose hours or days by clicking on the latest news or statistics.

Some of us look for ways to create structure for our kids or to find ways to stay connected to elderly relatives we refrain from visiting in person.

We look for ways not to engage in online tiffs with those who believe everyone is overreacting or with those who engage in pandemic shaming of people who aren't self-distancing the way they think they should.

We look for ways to help those who need shelter or groceries or face masks. And we stand on our porches at 7 p.m. every Friday night to applaud all of those people who continue to help our neighbors who have contracted the disease. For those of you looking for any number of ways to help others during the pandemic, CNN has put together a guide to giving and getting help:

All these things are the right thing to do.

Among other things, I continue to return to the poets every morning. And, like Billy Collins in his poem "Nostalgia," I'm reminded "a little about the future, that place where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine, a dance whose name we can only guess."

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to