By Cindy Allen, Managing Editor
Oh. . . for the good old days.
I remember when the newspaper wrote stories or editorials -- and if the readers wanted to comment on those stories, they had to submit a letter to the editor. They had to sign their name and give us a phone number before we would print what they wrote.
We still do that for print letters; however, with the invention of newspaper websites, many newspapers, including ours, have allowed readers to comment on our stories anonymously.
This has caused quite a bit of heartburn for elected officials and others who sometimes get lashed by the readers. It has also created some heartburn for editors and reporters who often find themselves the targets of the readers’ wrath. We’ve had to pick our way through what is proper to include in these comments and what is not.
Yet, we have persisted in offering the reader comment option online -- with the caveat that we administrate those comments. We have taken quite a bit of criticism for offering this option; however, we’ve found reader comments online to be quite helpful in shaping the public discussion and often of shaping public policy. Sometimes these comments have also helped guide our news staff in directions of further covering certain news stories.
So, the good of having these comments has outweighed the difficulties over the years.
However, what’s good for the goose doesn’t always seem to be good for the gander -- particularly when those anonymous readers are challenged on their opinions.
I occasionally wander into the reader comment debate if I see comments going off target or if there appears to be some misunderstandings or just plain incorrect information.
When I do that, I try to be factual and give information that I know is accurate and I’ve confirmed.
Typically what happens is someone who might not like the facts will retort with some kind of derogatory comment about me or the paper, etc.
Sometimes, I re-engage those folks, but I try to do it -- again -- with factual information. That’s still not good enough for those who just want to be argumentative.
And, when I argue my point back, then these commenters will come back with comments about how unprofessional I am or that I should “hold myself to a higher standard.”
But folks, if you’re going to engage me in a debate, I’m going to debate. Its different with the Internet in that I can almost have real-time conversations with those who have a different idea or opposing viewpoint.
Listen, if someone has an opposing opinion or viewpoint on an opinion or blog I write, great. I know that my ideas or opinions aren’t the only ones out there. But, when you’re going to go after me for stating facts and backing those facts up, I’m not just not going to stand for it.
The purpose of the reader comments is not to get into a debate with me or other readers. The purpose of the comments is for people to have an immediate opinion on an issue or event.
But, don’t expect to throw personal insults at me, the staff or the paper in the midst of these reader comments and debates and expect me not to reply.
Times have changed. We all seem to like the advantages the Internet has given us, and we all seem to like to be able to have discussions and sometimes debates.
When I choose, I will continue to engage the readers on the reader comment section, and I will do it the way I’ve always done it -- with facts and information. I believe that’s my job.
But, if you choose to insult me, then I will back myself up. If you can’t handle that, then don’t insult me.
Now, this blog will allow readers to debate my thoughts and opinion on this particular topic all you want -- this time in the proper forum.