By Al Diamon
Created Sep 14 2007 - 9:54pm
September 14, 2007
The trouble with free speech is it's so damned … er, free.
The Portland Press Herald is finding that out the hard way. Columnist Bill Nemitz complained in the newspaper's Sept. 14 edition that some readers of the Press Herald's Web site are engaging in "trash talk." The comments they're posting about stories are, in Nemitz's opinion, downright rude. And they're using pseudonyms, so they can't be held responsible for their lack of civility.
Nemitz cites a few examples of tasteless postings, and there's no denying these people are jerks. He quotes Press Herald Executive Editor Jeannine Guttman as saying the paper is "evaluating the reader comment structure, seeking ways to maximize reader participation while keeping the debate civil."
Finally, Nemitz challenges posters to attack him with "every name in your ever-growing book of bile," but to do so using their real names.
There is, of course, a simple way to make sure that happens. The Press Herald could ban nicknames, and include all posters' e-mail addresses with their comments. In effect, this policy would make the rules for Web postings the same as those for letters to the editor in the paper's print edition. And it would likely render comments on the Web as bland as those in ink on pulp.
If the Press Herald doesn't want to carry the sort of venomous rants that only get uttered under a protective veil of anonymity, then the Web site shouldn't offer that shield of privacy. If the paper actually believes, as Nemitz writes, that it's "all for providing an online forum in which those who read the newspaper can anonymously praise, complain, poke fun at or otherwise sound off about the news we serve up to you each morning," then quit griping when that invitation produces some responses don't fall within the narrow confines of civil discourse.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.