Last night's gathering of interested folks at the Old Capitol Center to participate in the Project on Public Rhetoric Inquiry turned to be more inquisition than inquiry. The topic of discussion “Words Matter: On-line Postings in the Iowa City Press-Citizen” was the first of three seminars in the “Media, Space and Race” Public Rhetoric Seminar series.
Three panelists and the public were to austensibly examine an article that appeared on the Press-Citizen (“Curfew passes second reading by council 4-3”) and associated on-line commentary. No one was required to have read the article, and many, it appeared, did not.
As the panelists Jeff Charis-Carlson, Opinion Editor of the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Frank Durham, Associate Professor of Journalism, and Andre Brock, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science framed the discussion around their unique perspectives, the commentary form the crowd was centered around the Press-Citizen's choice to allow comments on their website and the deleterious effect that has on the dialogue of human relations in our area. Some questioned the paper's policies to allow persons to post anonymously or rather pseudononymously because of the ability of those individuals to say whatever they choose (albeit within the confines of the "terms of service" of the paper which removes comments that aren't up to snuff).
Interestingly, not one person on the panel or in the audience directly commented on the curfew that the article addressed. Conversation focused on the relative merits of the Press and the commenters and bloggers. At one point a frequent blogger took umbrage at an assertion by Prof. Durham that online comments were "grafetti" and that bloggers are not held to the same standard as Journalists.
I will say that I found this part of the evening interesting. I have no problem with what the professor said as it is true that bloggers, myself included, could benefit from both a good editor and a fact-checker. Fortunately, in the blogosphere, the comments we receive from others often act in these two capacities. I know I've fixed posts when presented with new information or clearer editing eyes. I will also say that broadsides like Prof. Durham made are not likely to win any sympathy from people who do believe that the Press is elitist. I frankly appreciate facts in reporting the news that I read, even if it doesn't remove the writer or editor's bias.
I commented to the moderator that it was a good discussion because everybody's ox was gored, however I walked away with the same notion that some people have about online comments, what good was it?