Community needs voice but rules apply

Published 10:50 pm Saturday, August 15, 2009

“You best turn them comments back on that story. I gots things to say,” the gruff female voice said on the other end of the line.

“You’re violating my rights to say what I want. That guy’s opinions are wrong.”

At that point, I couldn’t help but chuckle a little, which didn’t do much to endear me to the caller.

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I didn’t have the heart to say that opinions can’t be wrong; they can only be different from what another individual believes.

But I did explain that we weren’t violating her First Amendment rights of free speech or any other rights that she wanted to cite.

The Constitution says that the government won’t restrict free speech. The Tribune certainly isn’t part of the government (we actually live within our means and attempt to stay in touch with reality) but has always fought for free speech, a free press and other forms of government transparency.

All the anger was stemming from my decision to disable comments on a particular story that the caller felt she hadn’t gotten her two cents worth in on. My guess is that she was likely one of the reasons they had to be disabled in the first place.

Online comments are a polarizing topic in a community like Lawrence County where politics is king and issues are often heated. Some love them. Some hate them.

The bottom line is we feel that, when used properly and under the guidelines that The Tribune has established, these comments provide citizens with a voice and input into the things going on in our communities.

This is a powerful voice and has great benefits in terms of free speech and promotion of civil debate and discussion of ideas that can lead to more open-minded thinking and seeing things from new perspectives.

But it isn’t absolute.

Ultimately, this is The Tribune’s sandbox. That means you have to play by the rules that we have established and to which each and every user has agreed when creating an account.

Just as a refresher, you can find them here.

Don’t like those rules? Sorry. I don’t like speed limits or paying taxes but I have to follow those too.

We established these guidelines based on much research of legal protection, industry standards, common courtesies and The Tribune’s own ethical principles tied to remaining positive influences in the community and being family friendly.

Are some “negative” or hurtful things posted and allowed to stay? Of course. These comments are simply a reflection of our society and don’t violate the Terms.

But we won’t allow comments that violate the Terms of Use to stay posted. Post one, and as soon as someone flags it or it is brought to our staff’s attention, it comes down. Persist in posting these types of comments and your account will be disabled and you won’t be welcome on our site.

No warnings. No debate.

We also won’t allow links to other Web sites, blogs or message boards that feature comments where we have no control and contains material we feel is a violation of our terms.

Some topics and stories have shown a clear track record where it seems impossible for users to follow the rules, with the conversation quickly deteriorating to constant violations.

I’ve made the decision not to enable comments on those topics moving forward. I’m sorry if that upsets some readers but they should blame their fellow users.

That certainly doesn’t mean that we support an individual or a topic or that we are against someone. It just means that users have not shown an ability to play by the rules the first 10 times so there is nothing to make me believe anything will be different on the 11th try.

The Tribune wants to continue to allow readers to have a voice about important issues in our community but we won’t allow a free-for-all that has no integrity or standards.

Hopefully, this clarifies this issue some and gets everyone on the same page.

The proof may be in whether or not the comments on this article last for long.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at