Letter from the Editor: Things could always be worse – and other lessons I’ve learned from MLive’s advice columns

Advice columnists

Annie Lane, Jeanne Phillips (pen name, "Dear Abby," and Amy Dickinson.


Dear Abby: I’m a news editor who’s a bit confounded. Every day my journalists do a great job reporting on the ins and outs of community life, from taxes to business openings to sports to crime and everything in between. But it seems like something is missing – something to give our readers a break from everyday life, something that would entertain and enlighten them. Any ideas? Signed, Muddled in Michigan

Obviously, this is not an actual letter and no answer is forthcoming. That’s because you, the readers, have already told me the answer: Advice columns, and keep ‘em coming please.

MLive.com publishes columns daily by three popular columnists – Dear Abby (real name, Jeanne Phillips), Ask Amy (Dickinson) and Dear Annie (Lane). To say they are popular would be an understatement, but it’s important to note that interest in advice columns is nothing new.

“There’s a little nostalgia with advice columns,” said Tanda Gmiter, MLive’s director of content innovation. “A lot of our readers grew up with them, especially columnists like Dear Abby or Ann Landers.

“Maybe a particular column was clipped out of the paper and hung on the fridge, or mailed to a friend with the especially pertinent parts highlighted. I remember both of those things happening in my house as a kid,” she said.

Some of you who see these on our site (or in our newspapers) may have the reaction, “That’s not news!” They’d be right.

My response is there is a lot in the traditional “newspaper” reading experience that is not news but still makes the overall experience fulfilling. One of the first things I do every morning is the Wordle puzzle from The New York Times. Crosswords are a big part of my Sunday morning routine. And I grew up devouring the comics every day.

Some things inform, some things entertain. Advice columns add in elements of living vicariously, rubbernecking from a safe arm’s length and the occasional “what the …?” (I’m still not over Bridezilla and her mother!), creating a recipe for addictive reading.

“The columns can be like bite-sized soap operas,” Gmiter said. “They are breezy reads. They don’t take much time to get through the dramatic problem, then see the solution offered.”

The columns typically make me realize my own problems aren’t that bad; and second, they are part of the broad mix that keeps our readers happy.

“Either they see bits of themselves or their own problems in what the anonymous writer is saying” Gmiter said, “or they are really thankful they don’t!”

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