A rough-and-tumble public conversation
In this week’s letter to the editor, Richard Swenson raises several issues about reader participation in Wareham Week and on WarehamVillageSoup.com. Let me use this space to respond.
In short: We love and encourage participation. There are rules, and we enforce them. But they are the rules of a rough-and-tumble public conversation.
We invite – indeed urge – readers to send us letters to the editor voicing their opinions on local issues. They must be signed and we need to know how to get in touch with the writer should we have questions. For publication online, we’ll do some light editing – spelling, grammar, punctuation. For publication in print, we reserve the right to trim, while preserving the essence of what the writer is saying. In neither case will we publish anything that is deemed libelous, obscene or a personal attack.
While we prefer that letters be written by local people about local topics, there are times when an out-of-town person’s opinion on a local issue is relevant or when a resident uses a letter to voice his or her opinion about an out-of-town issue. We make decisions on publishing such letters on a case-by-case basis.
Wareham resident Arthur Sandland’s letters about the presidential election are a good example of this. Since Donald Trump’s victory, Sandland has sent us four letters critical of the president-elect. We have printed all of them on the website (no space constraints there!) but only two of them in Wareham Week.
Is it clear that Mr. Sandland does not like President Trump? Absolutely. Are his criticisms any sharper than what has been leveled at Mr. Trump in forums of all sorts all over the country since Trump first threw his hat into the ring? I think not.
Online, we invite readers to comment on stories and letters – and even allow readers to start their own discussion topics. I’d say “the more the merrier,” but with full knowledge that “merry” might not accurately describe many comments.
But that’s OK. Listen to a heated political discussion in the local coffee shop, at your dining room table or even in nationally broadcast presidential debates. Restrained, refined and respectful are probably not the words that come to mind.
We don’t read and approve reader comments before they go online. Our staffers try to read all comments relatively soon after they go online – or when alerted to a potential problem by a reader. They edit nothing. However, they do delete comments deemed to be obscene, racist, a personal attack aimed at a private individual or otherwise unfit for our site.
We try not to be heavy-handed. We happily note that our online community often polices itself: One commenter gets out-of-line; other commenters pounce on him/her with pointed criticism. Depending on the content of the original offense, we may not delete it – preferring to let the offender continue to take his/her lumps from fellow commenters.
Those looking to WarehamVillageSoup for only refined comment suitable for the editorial pages of the New York Times are likely to be disappointed. Those looking to find a lively discussion among fellow Warehamites of issues local and national can usually find it on our website.