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Pat Butler: Comment policy leads to charges of censorship

If the topic is raising the bar, then we’re also talking about reducing the breadth and quality of the experience (mine at least). Will I personally stop coming here if I lose those draws or if their fecundity diminishes? I don’t think so. But I think the remaining posts here will be a little more sparse, a little less interesting, and, more intellectually rewarding, yes, but not nearly as satisfying as a whole.

Savota _ March 14

I’ve come to a realization that when I pointed the finger at Jeff (Ackerman) recently and said he was addicted to controversy, well, I was talking about myself. That’s odd because seeking controversy is very unlike me normally. I think I’ve caught the goatboy inside me sublimating himself here … and, frankly, the release has been wonderful. I think I would be very sad if a change in standards forced me to lock him up again. And I think there would be a lot of other sad people packing up their own goatboys and moving on.



Savota _ March 17

I really enjoy the opportunity that has been provided here in The Union. It is a valuable forum for people to express their opinions and discuss issues. I have not found any other papers that allow this type of discussion on their sites. I am not sure if you should “decide” if an opinion is tasteless or not. An opinion is just that and only reflects on the writer. It is censorship, whether you want to say it is or not. All points are not valid to everybody but maybe to somebody. Thanks again for keeping the discussion open.




Savota _ March 19

Savota has evidently put a lot of thought into our comments policy. He’s not the only one, however, who has complained about our decision to raise the bar for this popular feature on theunion.com.

We added the comments feature about a year ago. Initially, they just trickled in, but in the last three or four months it has turned into a steady stream of comments on stories that appear in the paper and the Web site.

On Friday, 60 new ones awaited the approval of either Web Editor Kady Guyton or myself. Before the day was over, another 30 or so rolled in.

Stories, columns, editorials, letters to the editor and Robert Crabb’s cartoons are all targets for comments. If you want to comment on a local story, you simply click on the comments line at the top of the story and you will get your opportunity.

Unfortunately, not every comment made gets posted. As a result, some readers have charged the newspaper with censorship or of violating their First Amendment rights, which is a misinterpretation of that cornerstone of the American way.

We are not stopping anybody from saying anything. You can always start your own Web site and say whatever you please there. The problem is that your audience will likely be significantly smaller than what you will find on theunion.com, which now has 18,897 registered viewers. Now that’s a nice soapbox.

But before you go out on your own you might want to contact local bloggers if you can find them. One place you might look is on our Web site where they like to solicit traffic. One warning to bloggers: We have to check your blogs before we will consider posting your address and that might take some time.

Our favorite comments are the ones that address local issues, which means when we’re scanning a long list those are the one’s we look at first.

So what are the standards?

First, it is important to understand that we do not edit comments. We either post them or delete them. So perfectly reasonable commentary will get punched out if it ends with a claim that your neighbor drinks too much or cheats on his wife.

As I have stated before, personal attacks, accusations and profanity are not welcome in our house.

But there’s still this question about whether we are censoring when we decline to post a comment. I prefer to think of it as editing, which is something reporters and writers are exposed to every day.

Our standards on the Web are looser than what we would permit a reporter to write or what we would allow in a letter to the editor or an Other Voices that is published on the editorial page.

We do understand, however, that the Internet is a different environment. We are also interested in what our readers have to say. I have read comments that have led to stories or productive newsroom discussions.

The goal is to publish as many as we can. Overall, I would estimate that fewer than 5 percent have been sent into oblivion. Now, a closing thought from another commenter that summarizes our position quite well:

Of course, it’s a matter of taste! And considering theunion.com is a privately owned Web site that opens a forum for the entire community, it has every right to determine what “tasteless” is and whether it wants to publish it on its OWN Web site. Don’t worry, if you’re suffering from a shortage of “tasteless” materials, there are millions of other sites that may satisfy your thirst for such.

Anonymous _ March 12

Pat Butler is the editor of The Union. He can be reached by e-mail at patb@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4235.


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