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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dropping Dr. Gott’s column in ’06 triggered outpouring of responses by readers

EDITOR’S NOTE: Five years ago, The Telegraph decided to drop Dr. Gott’s column. The ensuing outrage from our readers led us to reverse that decision. This is a reprint of a column then-editor-in-chief Nick Pappas wrote Jan. 29, 2006, after announcing two weeks earlier that The Telegraph was going to discontinue Dr. Gott and replace him with Sudoku on our comics pages.

Originally, I was going to use this column to give you a glimpse into the life of a newspaper editor after he writes a column to announce the start of some new features and the elimination of others.

I was going to tell you what happened after I wrote a Jan. 15 column that informed readers we planned to eliminate the daily stock tables and to introduce Sudoku into the paper.

As an aside, I mentioned that in order to squeeze the new number puzzle onto our comics pages, we would be dropping the daily Dr. Gott health column.

I was going to tell you that when I stopped by my office that Sunday afternoon, I had eight phone messages waiting for me. To put that into some context, that’s at least six more than usual over a typical weekend.

I was going to tell you how that number doubled to 16 by the time I came in to work on Monday morning.

I was going to tell you that by the time I had checked my weekend e-mail, I also had received 16 e-mail messages in response to the column.

And I was going to tell you that by the time I began working on this column Wednesday afternoon, I had received 59 telephone calls, 62 e-mails, six letters, one fax and a postcard with the MGM Grand/Las Vegas plastered on the front, all on the same topic.

But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m just going to ask you what you think they were calling and writing about.

Keep the stocks?

Guess again. I received only a handful of calls and e-mails about that decision.

Try keep Dr. Gott – though in some much more, um, colorful language.

Now, to be honest, I was prepared to have an intelligent conversation with upset readers about our decision to drop the daily stock listings. I thought I had spelled out our reasons reasonably well in my initial column.

But I certainly wasn’t prepared to engage Dr. Gott disciples about the value of a daily syndicated health column that at various times has advocated using Vicks VapoRub on toenail fungus, placing a bar of soap under the sheets to prevent leg cramps or rubbing castor oil on sore joints.

When one upset caller referred to me as a “whippersnapper,” I knew I was in trouble.

“I was shocked to read in The Telegraph today that you will not be printing Dr. Gott’s column. Did you know that it is the chief conversation on many occasions in my age group of 80-year-olds? It has so much valuable information that one does not get from doctors that it would be a great loss not to have it daily. Pleeeeeeease do not drop Dr. Gott.”

“I would like to protest your announced removal of Dr. Gott’s column from your daily paper. I have found this column to be a great daily source of health information by a doctor who responds intelligently, frequently in a surprisingly unorthodox way. … Recently he recommended a try at rubbing castor oil on osteoporotic joints, and the next day I found that all castor oil was sold out at my supermarket!”

“NO, NO, NO! Pleeease don’t take Dr. Gott’s column out of the daily paper. It is one of the best and most informative columns in the paper. How about taking out Astrograph instead – which is, as far as I’m concerned – just amusement.”

There’s more, of course – much, much more – but you get the idea.

While I have worked here at The Telegraph for 17 years, it won’t come as much of a surprise that I am not a faithful reader of the good doctor. I’ve overheard some good-natured snickering from the copy desk from time to time about trying to write a tasteful headline with the word “fungus” in it, but other than that, he might as well have been Dr. Dolittle.

So, who is this guy and why is he so popular, particularly among senior citizens?

It turns out that Dr. Peter Gott, a graduate of Princeton University and Tulane Medical School, has been writing a nationally syndicated column for the Newspaper Enterprise Association since 1984. He is a general internist based in Connecticut who reportedly receives more than 6,000 letters a month from readers all over the country and once advised them: “If your doctor keeps you waiting more than 45 minutes without a good reason, send him a bill for your time.”

No wonder people like him.

So, if you haven’t figured it out yet, this is a long-winded way of telling you that Dr. Gott isn’t going anywhere. Period. End of story.

And as I remarked in an e-mail to one of my colleagues in the days following the announcement, “This is the nicest, most polite group of disappointed readers I’ve had the pleasure to deal with in my 30+ (ouch!) years in the business.”

Today, Nick Pappas is editorial page editor at The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-6505 or npappas@nashuatelegraph.com. You can also follow the Opinion page on Twitter at @TelegraphEdit and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheTelegraph.