Mark C. Hartless: Policy is wrong

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I think the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s elimination of anonymous comments on its website represents capitulation to political, social and financial pressure from those who oftentimes find some comments from the rabble to be an inconvenient truth.

I understand the rights of any business to arrange its affairs as it sees fit, and I strongly support that right. However, I also expect a local newspaper would feel obligated to foster and protect an atmosphere where people can communicate ideas in the abstract without fear of reprisal. It is disturbing that a newspaper determined anything to be of more importance than the open discussion of issues.

I understand this is not a free speech issue. However, it seems that every day, more and more people forget that it is unpopular speech that needs protecting. Popular, soothing, uplifting speech needs no defenders. Of all entities, one would think a press would appreciate this notion. But alas, I guess what they say is true: Journalism is dead. I was wondering, why is it acceptable for a reporter to hide his source, even on historic cases such as Watergate, while the rest of us can only have a valid comment if it comes with our full name and address?

I also wonder if there is anyone who truly thinks a builder, for example, who has something critical to tell the community about the Building Department will dare do so now? If he does, will he find it easier or harder to get a building permit next month? What about someone who has business pending before the City Council or county commissioners? Does anyone really think they will dare say anything negative, even if it is completely true and even if the community really needs to know about it? Can anyone else see how this policy is exactly what dishonesty needs to thrive here?

The “sensitivity generation” is really turning this nation into quite a bunch of cupcakes. We now place more importance on not being made uncomfortable by someone’s harsh words than on being informed and being able to speak without fear.

This action makes a group of relatively unimportant bloggers more accountable for their words in the imaginary and completely optional world of cyberspace. But in so doing, the Steamboat Pilot & Today is helping others to be less accountable for their deeds in the real world, some of whom set policy that affects the entire region. The most troubling aspect of this entire equation is how unlikely it is that the Pilot & Today’s management would not have understood this, and even intended it. Frankly, I think you should be ashamed.

Mark C. Hartless

Steamboat Springs

Comments

cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

Spot-on, Mark!! I am surprised that the Pilot even printed your letter, but good for them as well!! I have given up on the blog since the new policy went into effect because there is no good discussion of ideas but mostly a bunch of "atta-boys" attached to the articles. I too agree that anon posters bring a level of inside information that requires that their identity be protected but is information the public should be privy to. Thanks again, Mark and hopefully the paper will review this misguided change of policy to have an active and engaging forum in the future.

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Fred Duckels 2 years, 1 month ago

Excellent Mark, I like to hear everyone's idea, I can separate the wheat from the chaff. Prohibiting anonymity has certainly curbed the unsults hurled my way, but I can handle that.

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bill schurman 2 years, 1 month ago

Have you noticed that no one seems to comment anymore??

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Robin Craigen 2 years, 1 month ago

If the comments that had been made previously had contained actually contained "insider information" or government exposure and secret skullduggery then maybe they would still be here...

Mostly they seemed to be rantings that no-one in their right mind would own up to, and for that I do not miss them one bit.

Listening to the community can hardly be described as capitulation by the Pilot.

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Brian Kotowski 2 years, 1 month ago

Dollars to doughnuts Mr. Hartless was one of our resident (anonymous) conspiracy theorists. I'm pretty sure he used the phrase "inconvenient truth" to label his '9/11 was an inside job' babbling.

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mark hartless 2 years, 1 month ago

Brian, You are completely wrong. I have never said 9-11 was an "inside job".

But thanks for helping make my point about the need for anonymity. When the rules allowed anonymity people played by those rules and had an expectation of such. Now that the rules have changed and someone shows the guts to put their name on their words how do you reward that? By trying to tie them to comments made by someone who wished to remain anonymous.

A cheap shot, kind of like asking someone how much they earn, or weigh or how old they are. My name is listed and the comments I have made are listed under my name. Leave those who commented anonymously alone and pick on those your own size.

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Phoebe Hackman 2 years, 1 month ago

Yeah, Sep, what's up with you? You've been especially snide lately.

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Brian Kotowski 2 years, 1 month ago

Mark:

I stand corrected. And I'm more sympathetic than you might imagine to your position. I'm not so much anti-anonymity as I am anti-idiot. I think the Pilot likely views the new policy as the lesser of two evils.

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Brian Kotowski 2 years, 1 month ago

While I agree the new policy discourages the kind of whistle-blowing you'd like to see, can you recall a singe instance of that ever having occurred here? I can't. If you can, I'd be quite happy to stand corrected again.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

Well, there was certainly commentary from people that would have valid concerns of retaliation or other consequences if their identity was known. Semi-anonymity allowed Sledneck and YVB to comment without wondering if a subsequent government inspection of them was actually the result of their critical comments. Semi-anonymity also allowed people to criticize government and influential local businesses without losing their jobs or business clients.

In the past there have been posts by semi-anonymous posters claiming to be Ski Corps employees and this new policy certainly means no employee of Ski Corps will ever be posting about Ski Corps again. In fact, any employee of a restaurant or lodging would be well advised not to be critical of local tourism efforts.

Can someone publicly identified as the owner of a property management company freely provide commentary on tourism related issues without risking business? Real estate professionals know to try to avoid public controversy because it risks alienating clients and potential customers. If you were to count up the number of local people in professions or situations where commentary is either not allowed or could lead to problems then easily 25% and maybe as much as 50% of the local adult population have good reasons to avoid commenting on topics for which they are knowledgeable.

The need for semi-anonymity is not because there is some epic whistle blower being suppressed because that person can still talk to a reporter. The need for semi-anonymity is because there are many knowledgeable people in situations where speaking freely for all to read means there will be some people reading in a position to cause problems for the poster.

The issue of the tone of the forums is not a semi-anonymity vs named poster issue. This is a matter of posts that the paper allows. If the paper wanted a friendly issues focused discussion then Sep's off topic post theorizing that Mark Hartness was previously an anonymous 9/11 conspiracy commentator would not have been allowed to remain for all to read. The tone of the forums was not due to bad semi-anonymous posters since the tone was also set by named posters. The way to change the tone is not banish chunks of the community, but by defining and enforcing a policy on acceptable messages.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

As for the building dept example, the consequences of posting critical comments would not be something blatant like denying a building permit. The real world situation is whether rules would be interpreted more strictly.

I was remodeling a rental house as the owner. Building dept says as owner that I am only allowed to do the electrical if it is my residence. So I need a licensed electrician. But that rule appears to be rarely enforced. People in the trades had never heard of that rule being applied to a single family home. So was it enforced upon me because I've posted comments about the size of last year's building dept budget deficit? Did they look extra close at my building permit? Who knows. There is no way to know. Any additional scrutiny might not be a conscious decision, but a subconscious effort to do a better job of following the rules.

Would anyone in the trades want to risk additional scrutiny? Of course not. So none of them should ever be expected to say anything about the building dept unless able to post semi-anonymously.

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mark hartless 2 years, 1 month ago

I would defer to Scott's response, Brian, except to perhaps add:

We can see things that exist quite easily, some of us anyway. It is far more difficult to see things that don't manifest themselves because of opposing forces which do exist.

How many people used this blog to blow whistles? I don't know, perhaps as you suggest it was not all that many. However, how many were prompted by the so-called "ranting" on this blog to investigate things for themselves and then call a reporter with a tip? How many people called their state or federal representative to discuss things which anonymous bloggers were hammering away on right here on this site? How many readers of this blog e-mailed their friends and family thousands of miles away where, in-turn, those folks acted in their community based on the discussions of controversial ideas that were being discussed here which might not have even been considered in their community?

How many people simply were prompted to re-examine their own perspectives and adjust them as logic was imparted to them? I have been. And one important thing I learned from my father many years ago is that logic and good ideas can sometimes come to us through what might often seem to be the stupidest person in the room.

Those are the things we have eliminated or quieted. And to think we have done so for the sake of someone being "offended" is sickening. When we are offended by a tv show, movie or sermon or campaign speech do we ask it to be altered for the sake of our feelings or do we have the common sense to simply turn away?

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Brian Kotowski 2 years, 1 month ago

I think you credit this site with far more influence than it actually wields. I've gained insights from some of the people here - both named and unnamed - but have yet to adjust my perspectives as a result. And following the policy change, I've noticed participation from people who have previously stayed away. Yourself included, unless you were previously anonymous.

I'm with you regarding turning away from the irritants. Marginally ironic in this instance, as Scott has long been among those whom I ignore.

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