The now-discontinued comments section of my column often turned into a vicious free-for-all, and that contradicted my goal of fostering awareness, inclusion and civil exchange.
As you may have noticed starting last week, we’ve decided to discontinue the anonymous comment section that ran below this column.
Here’s the exact language we used to explain the decision: “Editor’s note: The comment thread on this column has been closed because comments on Tyrone Beason’s columns often violate our Terms of Service.”
The two most relevant violations are these:
- Personal attacks and insults: Threatening, intimidating, libeling or defaming of any individual is not allowed. Name-calling and advocating harm to anyone’s person or property is also forbidden.
- Hate speech: Language that degrades others — including public figures — on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, physical characteristics or disability.
I’ve never been a huge fan of pushing people who say awful things into the shadows, or treating people who harbor poisonous attitudes as if they don’t exist in our outwardly open-minded region. Personally, I prefer to know exactly where ugliness, hatred and bigotry lie, so I can address those people and their attitudes head-on. More than that, I really wanted this column to spark conversation about issues that naturally stir people’s passions.
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But there’s a point at which vitriolic commenting and personal broadsides corrode the public discourse and eat away at the spirit of decency that underpins the relationship between journalists and readers — and between members of society.
A small but still significant percentage of the readers of this column, and of newspapers generally, have made a sport of twisting that thin line between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” into knots, turning what should be an exchange into a free-for-all.
“ST gives beason his say, but they close ours!” one reader wrote in the still-open comments section of a previous column.
Fair point. Except commentary happens to be a big part of a columnist’s job. And I don’t get the benefit of hiding behind an anonymous online persona.
Also, if I misbehave badly enough, I won’t just have my writing removed or get banned from expressing myself in this paper, which we do on occasion to readers who violate commenting rules. I might get fired.
Every journalist working for this paper does so with a deep awareness of the weight of accountability. Our reputations, to say nothing of the credibility of this paper, hinge on our ability to stay on the right side of truth, integrity, fairness and basic civility.
I want to thank all of the commenters who’ve shared their views and reactions in a way that brings light to the topics I’ve explored in this space, especially those of you who disagree with me and those who help keep conversations on point.
I’m paid to be honest about my outrage over the issues of the day, when I feel that outrage is warranted. It’s also my obligation (and my job) to welcome your outrage over what I write, to accept your stern critiques when you feel the need to set me straight. You can still do that by using the email address listed at the end of this column.
While my job is to take criticism as gamely as I dish it out, what about the people and communities I write about? They don’t sign up for the kind of verbal abuse that I’m required to tolerate as the cost of being a journalist.
In recent years, as both a columnist and as a reporter for our Sunday magazine, Pacific NW, I’ve heard from people of color, immigrants, low-wage earners, homeless people and women in particular who dread the bitterness and bigotry of that slice of commenters who spoil the forum for everybody else. In some cases, they are reluctant to appear in stories about the day’s pressing issues — and just as troubling, they avoid our news coverage on those topics.
I’ve taken it as my responsibility, in turn, to avoid subjecting them to verbal attacks in the comments, even if that has meant asking that comments be closed for stories about sensitive subjects or vulnerable groups.
This column’s focus is social justice. As I’ve written before, I have to balance my personal anger, disappointment and frustration — and inclination to hurl choice phrases over things that tick me off — with my journalistic impulse to build up rather than tear down.
To go off the rails is only human. But so is engaging in thoughtful consideration. It’s my professional obligation to err, always, on the side of the latter. For those of you who write comments, civility may be optional but it’s no less imperative.
This is a privately owned newspaper but I consider this column to be a public space. We try to be fair when it comes to allowing readers to express themselves freely, especially because “acceptable” language can be subjective.
It’s hard for me to believe that some people are beyond reach when it comes to civil discourse. I wouldn’t have taken this job if I did.
So I’ll say this to those of you who have a tendency to dash off intentionally nasty and hurtful comments that skirt the rules — and who’ll still get to do so on other articles in this paper: Think about whether the words you’re about to write do justice to your genuine thoughts and feelings, and whether they do justice to the people featured in this paper.
Or how about this? Think about whether what you’re about to say would do justice to your own humanity if someone expressed those exact same sentiments, in the exact same way, to you.
Editor’s note: We are not allowing comments on this column because comments on Tyrone Beason’s columns often violate our Terms of Service.