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Whines And Winces

Editorial by Lloyd A. de Vries,
Manager, The Virtual Stamp Club

Someone asked me in e-mail why any prospective American Philatelic Society candidate in his right mind would announce for office in The Virtual Stamp Club message board, given some of the harsh criticism there.

Yes, my correspondent has a valid point, and we on the staff are aware of the problem. We're not sure what we can, or should, do about it. If you over-censor a discussion group (e-mail list-serve, message board, newsgroup), it dies.

On the other hand, we are the only philatelic news medium these days covering APS politics or, for that matter, the APS (other than reprinting press releases).

Not only that, we're also a "self-publishing" medium, as has been so ably demonstrated: If you want to make a point in public, you can send a press release to a newspaper (which is likely to ignore it), you can make it at a candidates forum (at which the candidates always outnumber the voters), or you can post your point yourself in The Virtual Stamp Club message board.

And our readership is much wider than our participation. Several current APS directors have told me they check our message board at least every day. I know several staff directors do. The stamp newspaper staffers do.

In the eight years I was on the APS board, I heard the VSC referred to as "the APS board." Now I'm hearing both that we're anti-APS, and that I haven't been harsh enough on the APS leadership. Which is it?

The DelphiForums message board system allows users to ignore all messages from certain other users. I'm sure some members don't use that option, but filter manually: "Oh, no, it's her again, I'll scroll right by that message" or "Another message about the Euphoniums on Stamps study unit? I'll just click on 'Mark Discussions as Read' and be done with it."

When I was a freshman Director on the APS board in 1997, the stamp newspapers, Linn's Stamp News, in particular, used to excoriate the board members for everything it felt was wrong with philately, including and especially the Pacific 97 debacle. Five of us hadn't been on the Board until three months after that show closed and had had no say whatsoever in how that show was run.

In my eight years on the board, I was buttonholed at shows and told what a stupid jerk I was for — you pick 'em — show site selection, the purchase of the Match Factory, the NPM's sale of revenues, the furniture at stamp shows, and on and on and on. Many of the issues were out of my control or input.

In short, being criticized is part of being a Director of the APS. You get some perks, you pay some fees. As Harry Truman said (I think it was he), "If you can't stand the heat ..."

Heck, I get criticized regularly in the VSC for how I run the board, and when I was a Director of the APS, I got criticized there for board decisions.

Frankly, more dissuasive to me in ever running for APS election again is the manner in which some candidates and their supporters trashed other candidates. Most of that character assassination and misrepresentation did not occur in the VSC message board or on our site. (We did not take advertising during the campaign.)

So we who run the message board (which at times is akin to herding cats) wince sometimes at the tone of the messages posted. But this is democracy in action. It's even more civilized than the "real-world" brand.

Future APS candidates will have to decide for themselves whether the risks of participating here outweigh the benefits.

Were I running for office, however — and I am not planning to do so at this point; I like running The Virtual Stamp Club — yes, I would subject myself to the outrageous slings and arrows of this message board. And I did just that: When I was a candidate, and an officer, of the APS, I visited other message boards and stamp groups, and was taken to task many times for all sorts of alleged organization misdeeds.

APS' elected directors get free airfare to and lodging at the two APS-operated stamp shows each year. Part of the quid pro quo is listening to complaints and putting up with unfair comments. If it's too much to take during the election campaign, it'll be too much to take during the term in office.

And one more thing: APS candidates and officers should remember that most of the vehemence is the result of a love for the society. No other stamp collecting society in the U.S. (and perhaps in the world) generates this much passion. Next time you're criticized, be glad the members and others aren't apathetic.

©de Vries Philatelic Media
August, 2008

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