Today, my column has a new home in the newspaper. You’ll find me on Page 2A every Saturday, right next to everybody’s favorite Ledger-Enquirer feature.
You know, Sound Off.
That was a joke — sort of.
The small band of regular Sound Off contributors, whom our former editor Mike Burbach might have called “heroes of democracy,” do indeed love Sound Off.
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Officials tasked with serving citizens and executives trying to lure talent to the Chattahoochee Valley, maybe not so much.
One city leader told me that friends visiting him from out of town couldn’t believe how mean-spirited and petty some of the comments were. He told me we should discontinue Sound Off immediately.
My response to him, and to others who complain: “You should see the ones we don’t print.”
Yes, we wish we got more Sound Off entries that were thoughtful and original. Clever would be a bonus.
The thing that bothers people most about Sound Off is that the comments are anonymous. Given the cloak of anonymity, they say, someone will tend to be more negative and nasty. That’s probably true.
There’s a flipside, though.
You may recall that several years ago we switched from an anonymous commenting system on our website to one that required contributors to be registered on Facebook. This has dramatically reduced the number of hateful comments on our site.
With Sound Off, we select which comments we run in the newspaper, and we screen out a lot of hateful ones. (Did I mention you should see the ones we don’t print?)
Sometimes, the anonymity allows people to say things that need to be said.
People have told me Sound Off allowed them to express opinions about politics and social issues without fearing retribution from their employers or ridicule from their neighbors.
And sometimes people want to defend an official or leader who’s being criticized in our story comments, but they don’t want to be attacked by the critics, who are identified on Facebook and whose names and reputation they know. So they actually go to Sound Off to say something positive about somebody.
Really, it happens.
Facebook can be used as a force for good. Teresa Tomlinson, the mayor of Columbus, has been known to encourage readers to go to Sound Off and say something positive about our city.
It can be done. We just need more positive people to go to Sound Off and say positive things. You don’t even have to leave your name and risk being labeled a sunshine pumper.
Believe me, Dusty Nix, our editorial page editor and the guy forced to screen and select Sound Off comments, would love to have more positive messages to work with.
Did we mention clever, too?
Maybe Sound Off has run its course.
It was established nearly a decade ago by then-publisher Pam Siddall and then-editor Ben Holden. Maybe the world was a different place back then. Maybe people really are meaner and nastier, and maybe we really don’t need to know what they think.
Or maybe there’s nothing new under the sun. Maybe we do need to hear what other people think.
What do you think?
I know what the heroes of democracy think, and I know what the officials and leaders think. Now I want to know what the rest of you think.
Do you read Sound Off? Do you want it in your daily newspaper?
And here’s a question for me: Am I really considering killing Sound Off?