In our short history, I think one of the best things about the online component of the Flathead Beacon is how the story comments help us, as journalists, gauge community interest in one topic or another. Comments often clue us in to aspects of a news story we may not have considered, and helps us decide if we should allocate more coverage to an issue. Hopefully, it makes our reporting more useful to the community.
Yet I just can’t help but wonder what it is about this Web site that makes people so dang angry. I’m not talking about all readers, just our commenters. Don’t get me wrong; there is a time and a place for earnest discussion of serious issues. For example, the commentary string following a recent story on struggles by rural fire districts to accommodate Kalispell’s boundaries continues to generate a – mostly – thoughtful and informative discussion by people who are living with these problems.
But witness the nastiness that broke out between readers commenting on a humorous column by Kellyn that attempts to come up with a nickname for Kalispell. Sheesh, two readers challenged each other to meet somewhere for a fight, for crying out loud.
Our reporters try to write the most provocative stories we can, without being sensational. Obviously, that often means we focus on the friction between groups or people with conflicting interests on given issues. But it’s beyond me why a story about a crucial aspect of growth or economic development immediately overflows into hate-spewing personal attacks as soon as commenters can sink their keyboards into it.
Yes, elected officials often make decisions that prompt an angry public response; it’s part of their job, and they know it. But I think anonymous personal attacks on these people to see who can out-nasty the last commenter eventually suppresses real discussion: Someone with a relevant point to make about the story or another comment chooses not to, because they’ll inevitably be called a nasty name, or told to “go home” for such crimes as having a successful career, or for not having had the benefit of being able to live in the Flathead their entire lives.
I’m not trying to be a scold. I just have this crazy notion that flatheadbeacon.com can be a place where people can discuss and debate the local and regional issues that affect all of us who live here. Maybe with the holiday season here, we can take the vitriol down a notch and focus on what we have in common.
I’ll just step off this soapbox now…
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