Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

On-line Slime in the Journal

Earlier this month, we wrote a piece on the malice in the Ithaca Journal's on-line "Storychat" feature, its effect on the Journal's reputation and value, and its toll on individuals and the community.

Today, Lynne Jackier wrote a letter on the subject to the Journal. We reprint it here.

When the Ithaca Journal launched the forum attached to the online version of the paper called "Storychat" I wrote a letter urging the Journal to require posters to use their real names. I was concerned that anonymous posting would create a culture of name-calling and ugly ranting that would debase the cultural climate of our community. Now that this experiment has been up and running for a while, it is clear that my concerns were not unfounded.

A number of posters log on almost every day to make anonymous personal attacks on people in news stories and ridicule by name community members who are brave enough to submit a signed letter to the editor. Although it is possible to report egregious comments and have the post removed, there is no cure for the overall sense of being dipped in slime that the majority of the posts elicit.

There was a recent Journal editorial pondering why there were so many uncontested elections recently. I predict that even fewer people will be willing to take leadership roles or express themselves publicly if the current "Storychat" paradigm continues. It infects the public discourse.

The Journal is not serving our community well by allowing these posters the protection of anonymity while they attack other community members by name. If people who want to express strong or controversial opinions know that they will be identified with those opinions, they might be more thoughtful about how they express those opinions. It is time for the Journal to require all "Storychat" posters to use their real names online.

We wrote a brief, related on-line posting to the Journal:

The Journal has excellent standards, professionally applied, for its letters, where "needless invective" and personal attacks are deemed unfit to print. Why not the same requirements for all readers' comments - namely, those in Storychat?

The editor's note to Ms. Jackier's letter says "there is no practical way" to enforce such standards on-line, which is obviously untrue. The Journal staffers who check the letters could check the comments in a fraction of the time.

Thank you to Ms. Jackier for a letter that is forthright without being disrepectful.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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