A few months ago, I was meeting with a group of writers and photographers and we were discussing all the ways that journalism — and especially print journalism — has changed in the past decade. Gone are the bread-and-butter moneymakers for newspapers — classified ads, large real estate and automobile “sections,” full-page ads from myriad department stores. Paid circulation has declined as an increasing number of people have chosen to get their news online — and not always through traditional news sources.
In many communities, newspaper staffs and circulations are a fraction of the size they once were. The Seattle Times used to have bureaus in Snohomish County, the Eastside and South King County. Those are gone. Last spring, they even closed their bureau in Washington, D.C. Our neighboring communities of Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood lost their newspapers altogether when the Weekly Herald ceased publication three years ago.
When I started My Edmonds News in October 2009, my intent was to create a “neighborhood gathering place” — where people could not only read about what was happening in their community, but talk about it, in real time. The comment section has become a very robust part of this publication’s DNA, and I am proud of how our online community is able to — for the most part — respectfully debate the issues that matter to all of us.
Of course, there are times when emotions take over and I need to step in with the occasional reminder of our code of conduct. But it’s rare when I have to delete a comment for being inappropriate. It’s even more rare for me to close a comment thread entirely. And only once in six years have I banned a commenter from the site altogether.
I believe our comment system works because I require commenters to identify themselves, using their real names. I will be the first to admit that this isn’t a 100-percent foolproof system. There have been a handful of times over the past six years when someone has slipped through the cracks with a false identity. But for the most part, I feel that it keeps the conversation more civil when people know who they are talking to. (And note that I used the phrase “more civil.” I still am quite amazed by the way people “talk” to each other online, stating things that I don’t believe they would say if they were face-to-face.)
Earlier this week, Everett’s Daily Herald announced that it was disabling the commenting function on its website “until early January — or, perhaps, longer.” The reasons for the decision?
A few dozen Heraldnet users seem to fixate on our comments space as if it’s a video game, captivated by the sniping, potshots and detonations. Pow. Bang. Boom.
Public comments were meant to broaden and enrich civic discussions. Until we can get back on that track, The Daily Herald is taking a break.
I get it. Moderating comments can be hard work, and I can only imagine how challenging it must be at a larger publication. Commenters don’t have the same sense of responsibility, of community, of respect.
And, as I said in an earlier column, I value the “dugout” of readers who have my back. The ones who spot my typos and factual errors, and the ones who let me know when, in their opinion, another commenter has gone too far.
We have a very special community here, and I thank all of you for your role in ensuring that it works for all of us.
For those of you who celebrate Christmas (as I intend to do this week with my family), Merry Christmas! To all, Happy Holidays and best wishes for a New Year filled with promise and good cheer — especially in the comment section.
Finally, have you subscribed yet? Any voluntary amount — one time, monthly or yearly, supports our work and is much appreciated!
Until next time,
Teresa Wippel, Publisher