Friday, February 12, 2010

The Rule: Good Enough for Print, Good Enough for the Web

Virginia Tech's Commission on Student Affairs' demand (published in a local daily newspaper today) that Tech's student newspaper Collegiate Times bend to its will or else, is a situation where my kneejerk reaction is to side with the paper--being an old news guy and all.

This time, though, something's out of wack and even though its method is heavy-handed (threatening revenues and support), the commission is right in asking Collegiate Times to dispense with publishing letters on its Web site that are racist, homophobic and--worst--unsigned. The Collegiate Times is pointing to examples of newspapers that publish unsigned letters on their Web sites, but that doesn't make it right. There are very few publications that publish unsigned letters in their paper editions, which is still considered the "real" edition, the gold standard, as it were.

It people are going to say stupid things, the least we can demand of them is that they take full responsibility by being identified publicly. Our constitution gives everybody the right to face an accuser and I think publications have exactly the same responsibility. If want to be heard, you must be required to have your say out loud and with your name attached.

Granted, there are times when publications must use unnamed sources to get important stories, but calling somebody a "nigger" or a "queer" in print does not quite reach that level of "need to know." If you're going to say it, take responsibility for it. It the writer doesn't take responsibility, the letter goes in the dust bin. That's a minimum and publications must get away from this idea that if it comes in the front door of the Web site, it is worthy of publication, name or no name.

If a rule is good enough for the print edition, it is good enough for online.


  1. Publishers need to pay attention to the Web side of their product. In this day, many readers never see the print edition and anonymous posting has become the way of the Web. If a news organization is going to allow comments, it needs to develop a policy and assign an experienced hand to implement it.

    Many newspapers and TV stations host very lively and informative comment sessions below some news stories. Few of those comments would have been published if posters were required to disclose their identities.

  2. Peter: I simply can't abide the cowardice implied in not taking responsibility for your words. When we become that afraid, we lose our freedom of speech by giving it away to fear. Publishers can demand that we take that responsibility if we are to be heard and I don't think that is unreasonable at all.

  3. The lack of integrity nowadays--in our young people, in our society--is an alarming epidemic. I despise anonymous posting of anything.