Tonight Tuesday in Poulsbo I’ll participate in a panel discussion hosted by the West Sound Technology Association that some of you may find interesting.
The topic is anonymous speech and civil discourse, or as we call it in the newsroom: “the comments.”
Though not a part of our printed newspaper, I’m sure many of you read or participate in the comment threads that follow nearly every story on kitsapsun.com. I hear mixed reactions from readers about our practice of accepting that public feedback on the website, and from time to time even wrestle with my own view of the rapid and free-form response to the media now allowed by technology.
One thing I feel confident in saying is that anonymous online comments aren’t going away — but that they also will evolve. And that’s where we, as a newspaper and the host of the most popular comments site in the county, play a role.
So tonight Tuesday I’ll sit with Charlie Bermant, a former reporter in Kitsap County now at the Peninsula Daily News, Tracy Record of the West Seattle Blog, Jeff Rhodes, editor of the Port Orchard Independent, and First Amendment attorney Bruce H. Johnson. We’ll discuss some of the issues, including: Are comments made anonymously or under a pseudonym mutually exclusive with responsible discourse? What tools are available — or being experimented with — to ensure productive community conversation? To what extent should we be concerned with vitriol or inaccuracy in online forums?
Those are the questions that go through this newsroom, and among editors across the country. I wrote a few months ago that I think this will be a big issue for media, in particular community newspapers, not only because of the positive and negative effects commenting has on a website’s reputation, but also in assigning the amount of time staff members invest in interacting with the online community. Like any new technological tool (remember, commenting has only been widespread for the past three or four years), it’s going to take some time to figure out the best use.
The forum begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Poulsbo City Hall Library, 200 NE Moe Street. A $10 fee is asked of non-WSTA members who attend. For more information, call 206-984-3509.