The Castlegar Enquirer - is it what you want?
I’m not in the habit of discussing my professional decisions on this site, not because I don’t welcome input, but rather because I think our role should be to report the news, not become the news.
Having said that, I think it’s time for a frank dialogue about what you want your news outlet to look like. Not the website – I’m confident our reporting is consistent, accurate and timely. But that’s easy, I was trained to do that, and I’m a veteran journalist. There are examples, rules and social norms I can follow (or break) with a clear understanding of the precedents and implications of same.
No, I’m talking about our Facebook page.
At least half a dozen people in the past month have used the term Castlegar Enquirer while talking to me, and they didn’t mean it kindly. If that’s in reference to our site, I take deep and immediate umbrage … but if it’s in regard to our Facebook page … well …
So much for news being black and white.
The web is not a simple medium – if you send a letter to the editor, you have to go to the effort of penning it, and I won’t publish it if you won’t give me your name and address (not for publication, for verification). The Internet allows for immediate, anonymous, and sometimes thoughtless response.
First, let me clearly state my policy on deleting reader comments – I delete only that which is defamatory, profane, inaccurate, hate-mongering (in the legal sense) or egregiously cruel.
Is that sometimes a subjective call? Yup. Not usually, but on rare occasion it’s a judgement call.
Second, let me say that it’s been a steep learning curve for me, developing the policies I now have in place, for example that I try to identify myself personally if stating a personal view (you guys argued that point with me and won), I take more license in protecting grieving or frightened families than I do in other situations, and I never, EVER (anymore) go near the page if I’m tired, upset, or under the influence of anything from alcohol to cold medication (a hard-won lesson, that!).
There’s no precedent, no body of rules and social norms to fall back on, no guidelines to serve as a map. It’s just trial and error … oftentimes a LOT of error.
I’ve unwittingly hurt families, got facts wrong, reported before all the facts were in … and my sense of humour is problematic at best (I tried to persuade our police chief to grow marihuana in her greenhouse just so I could use the headline “Top cop gets stuck in pot hole”. Oddly, she declined.)
At the risk of being impossibly arrogant and naive, though, I don’t think my comments or posts are at issue – when I screw up, you guys land on me fast, hard and with both feet, so it’s usually quickly resolved.
The issue, now, is what reader comments I should allow. Sounds simple, but it’s not. Is the word “ass” okay? How about “gay”? When I delete things, some readers are incensed by the censorship. When I don’t, others are infuriated at my insensitivity.
Sometimes, it goes beyond merely problematic – I was literally up all night last night, deleting staggeringly vicious comments in response to a car accident that has impacted many, many locals and should be handled with caring gentleness, not the kind of wanton, judgemental, and grossly inaccurate supposition I was forced to police.
Like I want to be the ‘comment cops’. Not so much.
Many have suggested I disable comments altogether.
Here’s why I haven’t done so, but let me know if you think I’m wrong:
Let’s start with the small, simple reasons. First off, If you hate the comments, don’t read them. It’s that simple.
Read a book, watch TV, surf the ‘net, talk to your kids. No one’s holding a gun to your head, right?
Second off, right or wrong, good or bad, it’s a marketplace of ideas. You need to be a discerning shopper. But in a marketplace of ideas, the truth is on offer, if you’re willing to sift through and find it – hence its merit.
Thirdly, ever heard of shooting the messenger? Enough said on that point.
But finally, and most importantly, it’s not just throwing the baby out with the bathwater – it’s chucking the whole darned tub.
The Source is about community. We don’t merely promote divisive, nasty commentary (in fact, we don’t promote it at all, even though we’re put in a position to host it sometimes). We also help people find their lost dogs, raise money for good causes, give people a place to offer their support to struggling neighbours. We provide a place for people to argue, debate, discuss, agree, commiserate, clarify.
If being here for Castlegar isn’t always a pleasant experience … well, that’s all part of being in a community, no?
If I disable the comments, I think I take away a piece of your community.
What do you think?