This week we made a very difficult decision.
We disabled online commenting under one of the stories on our website.
It wasn’t that we disagreed with the arguments people were making or the substance of what they were saying. It was all about the way they were saying it.
Almost all of the commenting was hate-filled and anonymous.
Here is what we said to our online audience when we removed the comments under a story about the ouster of Valdosta head football coach Alan Rodemaker:
It is so incredibly difficult for the newspaper to disable commenting. We care deeply about how the community feels about this issue and want to provide an open, free marketplace of ideas. We are vigorously reporting on this subject, making public records requests and trying hard to keep the community informed. We are calling out school board members for being so tight lipped and not being forthcoming with the reasons behind this decision. We have conducted community polling and encourage you to look at the results. We just wish that the public commenting here could be civil with some basic levels of mutual respect and dignity. So, we are sorry to have to take the commenting down for now and hope you can try to understand. We promise to keep asking questions and reporting on this situation.
We encourage public commenting on all platforms and most especially in the form of signed letters to the editor. We honestly want to provide an open, free-wheeling, accessible marketplace of ideas.
Sometimes it can get a little tiring when the same usual suspects write about the same kinds of things over and over again or get in back and forth letter exchanges with other letter writers, instead of being a marketplace it becomes an echo chamber. Honestly, it can be a hard call when deciding how many letters to publish from one person or when to cut off the back and forth.
If we choose not to print a letter because it is the same person writing about the same kinds of things over and over again — generally going after other letter writers, then we are accused of not standing by our open and free standards. But if we do publish them, then we are accused of giving a megaphone to one person when no one is listening or wants to listen anymore.
We publish a lot of letters our editors, editorial board, reporters or staff disagree with, sometimes vehemently. And, we publish a lot of letters our editors, editorial board, reporters and staff agree with, sometimes wholeheartedly.
Publishing a letter in print and online has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not we agree with it or whether it is conservative or liberal leaning. If we don’t publish a letter, it is generally because of one or more of these reasons:
— It is the same person writing about the same kinds of things ad nauseam.
— It contains potentially libelous statements.
— It contains blatantly false information stated as a fact and not as an opinion.
—It contains personal attacks that are not focused on issues or points of disagreement but instead on another person’s character.
— We read it and just couldn’t understand it and we thought that if we read for a living and can’t understand it, then our readers will likely feel the same way.
We just think these are the right things to do, and we hope more of you continue to send signed letters. We also hope readers continue to comment online, but please just show a bit of respect for others, especially people with whom you disagree.
You can email letter to email@example.com
We hope to hear from you soon.