I enjoyed reading the editorial in yesterday’s Daily Dispatch.
Normally, I would provide a link to the piece at the outset of this editorial, but the paper’s new on-line format precludes that.
So much for their hit counter.
The editorial criticizes on-line publications that allow comment posts. The author writes:
“Unfortunately, moderation — in the form of readers showing restraint or site-managers restraining them — often is lacking.”
After pointing out a few examples, the author goes on to say:
“A large part of the problem is that these sites — whether local, regional, or national — usually don’t require users to identify themselves to other readers. They get to go by nicknames; obtuse online identities.
Anonymity offers users lots of protection — too much, really. It allows him to post just about whatever he wants without fear of repercussion; sure, he might lose his privileges to use the site, but few other users ever get to know who the real jerk is behind the nickname.”
I suppose one could read this and interpret it as meaning that there are several thousand jerks in Henderson. Perhaps its best to interpret it some other way.
The author closes by saying:
“But there’s still something to be said for a moderated debate of the kind this newspaper tries to offer daily.”
We could not agree more with the idea that the Dispatch has a lot to offer. Besides absorbing large quantities of misplaced liquids, something for which HiH is not suited, our local paper gives good, strong, and comprehensive coverage of news in Henderson and Vance County. If you want the big picture, the Dispatch is the place to go. They have the staff, the time, and the experience to bring something to the table that HiH is not prepared to offer with our meager resources.
But debate? We feel that debate is our bailiwick. The near-instantaneousness that the blog potentially offers adds an element to the discourse that exchanges in the op/ed section lack. Sometimes the results are elevated discourse and fresh ideas. Sometimes they’re crap.
Not every letter to the editor scintillates, either.
Despite the Dispatch‘s dim view of our humble blog, we really don’t see ourselves as a competitor. Discourse is the very raison d’être for Home in Henderson. The news items, articles, opinion pieces, and every other post are for the sake of fomenting discussion.
As for the issue of moderation, it is common knowledge that HiH is moderated. We think that if a survey were done, the results would show that it is not moderated to anyone’s satisfaction. We are proponents of free speech, to be sure, and we believe in freedom of speech if productive dialogue is to take place. However, we must balance that ideal against speech that is dangerous (e.g. hate speech), speech that goes against common community standards of decency, and speech that is illegal and defamatory.
I’m sure the Dispatch understands that issue, because the author of the editorial writes:
“Among our biggest critics are those who say our letters to the editor are too controlled. We limit how often a person can write…how many words they can use…and we actually make people tell both us and their fellow readers who they are…”
Regarding the issue of anonymity, HiH allows anonymous comment posts and letters to the editor and will continue to do so. We will tell you this: when we took over, we were told by some fairly prominent members of the community that if we continued to do so that the business would fail and that we would never garner any advertising.
Times have been lean. We wonder why.
Meaningful speech has consequences. Otherwise, why bother saying anything? Why tap telephones and read other people’s diaries? If you don’t believe me, tell your wife she really does look fat in that dress, or tell your husband about that weekend in Las Vegas the summer before you met. Anonymity is just another way to tease out those ideas that can make a difference to all of us and protect our readers from reprisals.
If you tell us that people can really and truly speak their minds without fear of consequences, I must warn you that although we’re civil servants we’re not nearly as dumb as our career choices.
It comes down to this: the Dispatch is an apple; HiH is an orange. You can’t compare them, really, and you don’t have to. They both go into the fruit salad, they both fit in the fruit drawer in the ‘fridge, and they are both part of a healthy daily Henderson snack.