Whose interests are being served with the comments section of the Gazette?

opinionandcommentBy Pepper Parr

February 11th, 2018

BURLINGTON, ON

Revision were made to this story after its initial publication.  Some of the quotes were attributed to the wrong person.

We got a note from James Schofield, who tells us that he reads the Gazette and added that there was “a line in your piece on the code of contact that caught my eye.

Lancaster on bullying“Lancaster said that the incidences of harassment and intimidation have occurred both internally and externally and appear to be linked with the insurgence of social media, media, increased communication and participation with the public.

“It may be worth some reflection on the role the Gazette plays in relation to this.

“I’ve largely stopped commenting on your site. I won’t go as far as to say I’ve been harassed or intimidated, but I’ve certainly had my character and motives called into question and been the target of juvenile name-calling. Far from being a place for respectful dialog and an intellectual debate on issues and ideas, I find the Gazette’s comments are often replete with ad hominem arguments and those with entrenched ideas spewing vitriol at anyone who dares express an alternative point of view.

“So I just don’t bother trying anymore. And I suspect I’m not alone. I think that’s a problem, because as the moderate voices keep their heads down we lose out on a diversity of opinion, and the comment section increasingly becomes an echo chamber for those with a particular way of thinking.

“For example – how many commentators have written anything critical of ECoB? Or in support of council’s efforts to pass the Official Plan before the election? Even on something as banal as trying to make it easier to ride a bike around this city, few are willing to stick their necks out. Why poke the bear? Yet when I listen and talk to people in the community — many of them Gazette readers — I find a broad diversity of opinion on these matters. You’d never know it from reading the comments.

“I’m thankful you’re at least moderating comments — I can’t imagine how much junk you must filter out as it is. A real name (and ideally, validation of that name against a social media account) would be a good step. But I think the recognition that commenting on your site is a privilege, not a right, and certainly not a “free speech” right, is also important.”

We consistently have to tell people that we will not approve their comment.

In the back and forth email with Schofield we asked: Are we part of the problem? We wanted to be part of the solution.

Transit - unhappy customer

An angry old man or an unhappy transit customer?

Schofield said “I don’t know if you’re part of the problem or not. You’re at least serving a helpful role in providing some form of media coverage in a city otherwise devoid of it. But I feel there is a strong echo chamber effect, both in the comments, and in the editorial content you feature. “Aldershot resident thinks…” and the like tend to pull from the same streams of consciousness as your most frequent commentators. Can you do more to foster some diversity — both in ideology and in demographics? Can you find some female voices and some young people to complement your “angry old man has something to say” content?

Schofield makes an exceptionally good point – one that has bothered us for some time. There are some very very good comments – and boy is there ever a lot of crap that doesn’t see the light of day.  Our objective was to give people a place where their comments and ideas can be published and shared.

In the the past few days the comments on the cycling survey the city is running are a case in point. There are people on both sides who go at it day in and day out and make the same argument.

The New Street Road diet idea was a disaster in the way it was executed and I think that the views of those opposed it were part of what brought the city the point where they realized it had to be cancelled.

The idea never got a chance to have a true trial run – mostly because the city found that the road was continually under some form of construction.

New street - being rebuilt

The New Street Road Diet never got a chance to be fully tested. Poor execution on the part of the city and the Region and vociferous opposition from the car set doomed the idea.

Schofield said he did not want to “dwell on New Street but I largely agree with you. As one of the instigators of the whole saga I’ve learned a lot from the entire experience. I still think it was a sound idea, but poor execution, and a 2 km stretch that didn’t connect to anything useful on either end didn’t set it up for success. Lessons learned and we’re moving on.”

Part of the purpose of the comments section in the Gazette is for new information to come to the surface, a place where sound, rational ideas can be voiced and a place where a citizen can hold the politicians they elected to account and ensure that the bureaucrats actually serve the interests of public.

Related content:

Lancaster asks for an anti-bullying – harassment Task Force.

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7 comments to Whose interests are being served with the comments section of the Gazette?

  • Penny

    This article touches on what unfortunately is a feeling among residents – apathy- and the feeling that they are powerless. ” To stand up for what you believe in makes you a target. Many are not prepared to do this. Nobody likes to be criticized or made to look small and as a result people remain silent.

    ECoB does receive some critical emails ( 1 to date) – I should know, I answer them. The response I give is that “they should email the councillors and mayor to show their support. We live in a democratic society that provides us with this privilege “.

    The few of us who do comment, are often the voice for the many who don’t feel they can.

    SILENCE IS NOT ALWAYS GOLDEN.

  • Phillip

    “Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage”–the words of Winston Churchill spoken many years ago. And they certainly apply to the world today. Whether alt-left or alt-right, I can never remember a time when shouting down others was so prevalent. People don’t like their ideas challenged and often when responding to their ideas, it is hard to separate the ideas from a zealous author. I know I have been guilty from time-to-time of stepping over the line; Pepper has certainly “chewed me out” and deservedly so. But in reading Schofield’s concerns, I am left wondering is he more concerned that many of us are now fighting back against the lobbying and a council which seems out-of-touch with the City that many of us desire. After all, free speech is critical to a democracy.

  • Lonely Taxpayer

    What if a government leader had an agenda for more guns and weaponry and minimal healthcare for citizens? A head of state who wanted to shut down the press and calls free speech “fake news”? Certainly all who agree should stand up and suppress any who disagree. That’s democracy in action.

    People with bad ideas are NEVER inclined to hear an opposing view.
    Without a differing opinion, government will enact whatever they want.
    Sometimes a great idea can be poorly executed, with unintended consequences.

    I hope the Gazette keeps this forum open, complete with ad nauseum arguments and entrenched ideas at anyone who dares express an alternative point of view.

  • Michael Drake

    I wouldn’t characterize your viewpoint as that of a “moderate” James. Content edited.

    I’ll be polite and simply say that you are a product of your time, as am I. One day perhaps you’ll be the “angry old man with something to say”, especially when someone with dollar signs in their eyes starts bulldozing your hometown. I could care less about a few bike paths, I’m more concerned with the additional 30,000 – 40,0000+ new citizens and cars that are going to be crammed into Aldershot as part of the “vision”. Noodling around with road diets and speed bumps while this is happening is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    And it will be worse downtown. 421 and 409 Brant are just the tip of the iceberg.

    Urban intensification is the election issue of 2018. The development feeding frenzy must be reined in. It’s now or never, spread the word.

    Editor’s note: Part of this comment was deleted.

  • Joseph Gaetan

    Suggestion,citizens of Burlington speak out while you can, however, be respectful and attack problems not people. People in doubt as to where they stand on a given issue should read “Media and Canadian democracy deserve better than studied indifference”, by John Honderich in Thursdays Jan 8 Post. Pepper, thank you for the thankless job of being one of the few remaining public forums where one can voice their opinions.

  • Stephen White

    The hard truth is that the issues facing Burlington are, by their very nature, contentious. We no longer live in an age of distributive public policy. Greenfield developments are a thing of the past. Financial resources are limited. Public servants and politicians have to make difficult choices and try to placate different interest groups. Increasingly, when you give with one hand you invariably end up taking with the other. We also don’t live in an age where people willingly accept what they are told. The public increasingly challenges and asks questions. ECoB, to its credit, is the outgrowth of widespread public anger with an entrenched City Hall elite who can’t, don’t or won’t listen to divergent opinions and differing perspectives.

    The Burlington Gazette provides a forum not just for news and investigative reporting but also for the sharing of opinions while engaging with others. It is also a democratic forum, and anyone can participate. In the entire time I have commented on this site I have never had Pepper or any reporter restrict or in anyway try to censor or limit what I said.

    Yes, I’m sure there are some who post offensive and ignorant comments, and yes, maybe they should be restricted and perhaps use more discretion in what they post. However, maybe the price we pay for having a viable and free press and the freedom to express opinions is less gentility and more candour.

  • Michael Drake

    I’m out.

    I appreciate the Gazette trying to cover these issues but can’t abide censorship of any kind. Time to go yell at some clouds.

    Good luck everyone(that includes you too James).