Two years ago, right here in this space, I asked what you thought about Sound Off, the Ledger-Enquirer’s daily offering of reader-generated rants and observations.
I did this after a city leader and frequent Sound Off target requested that I kill it. He certainly wasn’t the first to do so.
I responded with my stock answer: “You should see the ones we don’t publish.”
This got me wondering what readers and everyday citizens thought about it – beyond the dozen or so folks who regularly contribute to Sound Off, of whom one of our former editors used to refer to as “heroes of democracy.”
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So I asked, and hundreds of you replied.
It went back and forth.
“Kill it,” one of you wrote. “It is embarrassing to read the stupidity and lack of understanding of how things work.”
“Keep it,” another of you wrote. “Sound Off is the only intelligent part of your publication.”
And: “For the love of God, discontinue Sound Off.”
And then: “I read Sound Off with great enjoyment.”
In all, about 55 percent of you urged me to keep Sound Off.
One man advised me to remember that the Columbus market “is not too sophisticated.” Thanks. I am from around here.
Another person insisted: “There must be a forum for anonymous comment.” I took this as a reference to our former online commenting system, which had allowed readers to leave their thoughts but not their names.
Over the years, the comments became increasingly unpleasant and divisive, so we adopted a system that recognized only registered Facebook users.
The difference with Sound Off was that the anonymous comments were hand-picked by then editorial editor Dusty Nix, which to his credit was probably his least favorite task.
Over the past year, the pool of Sound Off contributions has grown increasingly unpleasant and divisive, making it harder and harder to pick five or six of them to publish each day.
Most of them are focused on national politics. The reason Sound Off existed in the first place was to reflect what matters to the people of the Chattahoochee Valley. Instead, much of what we’re getting today is a regurgitation of what you hear on cable news or partisan blogs.
Then there’s the tone. It’s people yelling at people, not people engaged with others and trying to learn from them.
Many Sound Off contributors are empowered by the anonymity, but they’re not using this power for good.
After 12 years, Sound Off has run its course.
Here’s what we’re going to do instead:
Starting Sunday, in the place of Sound Off, we’re going to publish comments that people leave on a local story that we’ve posted on our Facebook page.
Instead of somebody trying to shout louder than the next guy so he can get published, we’ll be choosing from comments that people leave on social media while they’re considering the news of the day and, you know, engaging with people.
Check it out and let us know what you think.
I’m sure you will.