Wednesday, March 29, 2006
I regularly get questions about Sound Off.
Sound Off is a weekly feature we started about four years ago. The gist is that people call in or e-mail comments to us about community issues, and we publish a selection of those comments every Sunday. The controversial part is that we publish the comments anonymously.
Sound Off has a lot of critics. A summary of their arguments:
n People who want to publish their opinions in the newspaper should have the courage to sign their names to their comments.
n Because the comments are anonymous, agencies or individuals who are criticized can't correspond with their critics.
n If letter writers have to sign their names, so should those who give Sound Off comments.
n Given anonymity, people always are much harsher in their comments than if they are required to sign their names.
All of the above are true. Yet, Sound Off still lives. Let me try to explain why.
We started Sound Off because we thought it would get more readers to interact with the newspaper. It has.
We started Sound Off because we thought it would provide an outlet for those who will never write a letter to the editor to share their thoughts. It has.
We started Sound Off because we thought it would become something people would enjoy reading. It has.
Yes, we worried that Sound Off would reduce the number of letters to the editor we receive. But the opposite has occurred -- the number of letters we receive has increased since we started Sound Off.
We make every effort to print every letter to the editor we receive. We make no such commitment to Sound Off comments. Sound Off comments must be fair and accurate criticisms to be considered for publication. In general, we don't print personal attacks. We also avoid comments about situations that are not a matter of public record. We delete comments that are repetitive or too long.
Occasionally, I get Sound Off contributors who complain -- anonymously -- that they were censored because their Sound Off comments never ran. As my 12-year-old would say, "Whatever." The newspaper is responsible for what it publishes; therefore, the newspaper gets to decide what it prints. That's not censorship -- it's judgment.
The best argument for Sound Off is simply that our readers enjoy using and reading it. And contrary to what some think, readers get it. They understand the difference between Sound Off and other types of commentary. They're smart enough to know what level of credibility to give a signed letter versus a Sound Off comment.
Sound Off can offer insight into issues that have a struck a chord with community members. Sound Off can provoke thought and be entertaining. That's why so many Sound Off critics also are Sound Off readers.
Like other newspaper features, Sound Off inevitably will run its course, but we certainly aren't there yet. So if you have something to get off your chest, call 871-4248 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Editor appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today. Send questions to Scott Stanford at email@example.com or call him at 871-4221.