Friday, May 18, 2007

In The Adirondacks, Newspapers Are The Deciders

The Glens Falls Post Star recently came under fire from Brian over at MoFYC for their removal of anonymous reader comments to letters to the editor on the web. According to the PS website:

The Post-Star has decided to remove all commenting on letters to the editor at this time. Our letter writers are held to a standard that requires them to sign their letters. The commenting feature online does not require the respondent to be identified. We don’t feel that is fair. If anyone would like to respond to a letter, they must be held to the same standard as the letter writer and be identified. They can do this by writing their own letter to the editor through the Web site or responding directly to the editor.

Brian notes that:

1) editors already approve comments before they appear
2) the paper has it’s own anonymous “Don Coyote” feature
3) the paper encourages anonymous comments in it’s “It’s Debatable” feature

Meanwhile, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Tupper Lake has turned on one of its opinion cartoonists – Adirondack local Mark Wilson, a.k.a, Marquil – after THE PAPER ran his cartoon critical of the recent New York State Police standoff that ended in the death of one of the troopers (above left). The cartoon elicited a pile of letters to the editor from people who apparently didn’t agree with the OPINION. The paper’s response, as noted in the Daily Cartoonist, was a gem:

In hindsight, we think it was the wrong decision, and we apologize to all those who were hurt by it. At the time, we felt a certain obligation to publish this opinion despite our aversion to it, but we feel no such obligation now. A syndicated cartoon — even one by a local cartoonist — is not the same as a letter to the editor written by someone whose sole motive is to be heard. It’s a service we pay for, drawn by a cartoonist who draws them for a living. As a customer, a newspaper has no obligation to publish a cartoon that will damage its relationship with its readers.

There’s still a fine line between finding something disagreeable and finding it unacceptable. Looking back, we think this cartoon crossed that line.

What really gets under the skin about this one is that the paper’s editors actually had the guts to say:

We normally find Mr. Wilson’s cartoons insightful, and we respect the intelligence of his opinions whether we agree with him or not.

Really? Then why fire him over one comment you disagreed with?

We’ve defended the ancient right to write anonymously a number of times in our stint here at the Almanack. We’re proud to be part of a long history of anonymous writings from people like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin whose Poor Richard’s Almanack this blog derives it’s name from.

Like Franklin, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) wrote using various names to protect his job and make political commentary. Lewis Carrol and Bill O’Reilly have both used false names for their work. The respected British weekly The Economist prints articles without by-lines. The American Federalist Papers, without which the American Constitution may not have been ratified (at least in a timely manner), were written anonymously. Voltaire never publicly admitted to having written Candide; he used the name Monsieur le docteur Ralph. Besides, Voltaire was a pen name itself for Francois Marie Arouet, the man behind the defense of civil liberties and opposition to censorship that helped form part of the enlightened movement that led to the American Revolution.

Some women, like Mary Ann Evans (a.k.a.George Eliot) and Charlotte Bronte (a.k.a. Currer Bell) published under false names to assure that their work would be accepted by male publishers. The science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein’s earliest stories were set in a single future he created; he then used false names for stories set in other times and places.

Fear from retribution over unpopular views expressed at work, in the press, and in the polling booth is one of the most important underlying principles of our liberal democracy.

Luckily, the old media patriarchs we have suffered under for so long now are quickly finding themselves more and more irrelevant in our new media world, slowly pushed aside by the increasing relevance of blogs and citizen journalism.

We welcome the change.

While we’re at it. Check out the new home of our friend Matt at Matt’s Totally Biased Commentary. Here’s what Matt says about his new spot on the web:

All of the staff here at MTBC are truly biased and opinionated. To paraphrase Amy Goodman, we are “advocacy editorialists”. Rather than hide any of this from you, we are awfully proud of it (just ask any of our friends). We believe in democracy, open and civil discourse, Ralph Nader, third party politics and less consumerism. Beware that there will be occasional bursts of intellignet thought mixed with angry knee-jerk repsonses to the insanely misguided actions of all kinds of people … mostly Democrats, Republicans and journalists. There will be much railing against the lapdog media, the ruling class felons who call themselves our “leaders” and the thieves and welfare cheats who comprise corporate America. Be careful not to get blood on your shoes. Banging your head against these brick walls can get pretty messy!

Sound familiar?

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.




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