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Report to Readers

Report to Readers: Guess who’s popular: ‘Dear Abby’ (of course)

After agitating conservative politicians and liberal politicians, friends of the mayor and foes of the mayor, deer hunters, website commenters and untold others recently, you’d think I’d be smart enough to avoid angering what appears to be Concord’s largest lobby group.

You guessed it: fans of the “Dear Abby” column.

We’ve published a few letters to the editor about “Dear Abby” in the past few weeks, and they made me wonder how popular the column is these days. “Dear Abby” has been around for half a century, after all. It’s certainly possible that it was time for a change.

Earlier this week I suggested that readers drop me a line and let me know what they thought. Thus began an email tsunami. To cut to the chase: Yes, indeed, Abby has followers. Passionate followers. Followers who like her better than sports, better than comics, better than local news, much better than they like me.

We heard from more than 200 readers in 72 hours. The vast majority begged us not to ax “Dear Abby.” Some threatened to cancel their subscriptions. Most were local – but at least one wrote in from Finland. (I also heard from an old friend in New York who declared himself “Ambivalent in Brooklyn.”)

Among Abby’s biggest fans are some of our most loyal readers – including a married couple in Bow who have been home-delivery subscribers since 1969. (Thank you, thank you, thank you!)

Here’s a sampling of their responses:

From a woman in Meredith: “I really appreciate her common-sense approach to difficult problems.”

From a woman in Concord: “I think probably more of us read her than will readily admit it.”

From a 31-year-old man: “I find the letters match much of what my coworkers have going on in their own lives, interestingly enough.”

From a local minister: “Many of the questions that are asked are questions I hear from my parishioners on a regular basis. Reading Abby’s responses offers me ideas on how to reflect on ethically challenging questions, even if I don’t always agree with her advice.”

From a man in Bow: “If I have time for nothing else in the day, I must first sit down to read what ‘Dear Abby’ has to write. I then go to read ‘Doonesbury,’ ‘Dilbert’ and ‘Pearls Before Swine,’ and then on to read the obituaries and Section B.”

From a longtime fan: “I start my day with the comics and her column, as I have since I was about 5 years old and practiced reading aloud from the newspaper with my family at breakfast. . . . She often refers to what may be considered old-fashioned values and behaviors, such as fidelity, trustworthiness, courtesy, patience, keeping one’s own counsel and displaying good manners. Yes, let’s keep reminding ourselves that these are timeless values!”

From a woman in Wilmot: “I read ‘Dear Abby’ every day and generally find what she says interesting and often helpful. And I realize how lucky I am not to be in such predicaments as some of the people who write her.”

From a man with some skepticism about more newfangled columns: “A steady dose of letters about teen romances and Facebook escapades would: (1) leave me cold and (2) be unlikely to attract a younger audience most of whom get advice via Facebook and Twitter.”

From a man in Concord: “I feel odd to be concerned about it, but losing the column would really reduce the enjoyment I derive from the paper.”

From an 89-year-old reader in Deerfield: “The advice is usually timeless and should be available to the younger generation. I look forward to reading it so please keep it going.”

From two alarmed fellows in Concord: “Why do you and some strange and uncool readers even consider canceling a column that has been an inspiration to so many readers with her wise and loving concerns in her writings?”

From a woman in Concord: “If certain people don’t like it, then by all means don’t read it! Why remove it and spoil it for people who enjoy it? Really now. That would be like stopping ‘Beetle Bailey’ and ‘Blondie’ for me. I would be aghast!”

Naysayers

Of course, not everyone likes Abby. In fact, one reader had had an unpleasant personal interaction with the column – receiving advice she found distinctly unhelpful.

On Twitter, one follower noted succinctly: “Dear Abby – not so dear.”

One woman suggested we find a more interesting replacement: “In my humble opinion her advice is outdated, and I find the column dull. I nearly always skip over that section of the paper and would love to see the space put to better use. I would enjoy reading a personal financial advice column.”

A woman in Loudon had her own suggestions for reorganizing the paper: “I don’t bother with ‘Dear Abby.’ Boring. Same old, same old. I suggest you replace it by putting the Jumbles word puzzle there like many other newspapers do, so I wouldn’t have to go searching through the paper for it every day.”

And a 62-year-old man suggested that the column has gone downhill: “While Abby’s advice used to be wise, now it seems to me she is more interested in publishing the outlandish and giving sarcastic responses than caring or sage opinion. We can do better.”

But the naysayers were far outnumbered by the fans. This was not a scientific survey, of course, but among people who cared enough about the topic to participate, it wasn’t even close. In short: At a challenging moment for the newspaper industry, axing “Dear Abby” is apparently not the path to success.

So, Abby stays put.

Sign me, Older and Wiser in Concord.

(Felice Belman can be reached at fbelman@cmonitor.com or 369-3370.)

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