Two weeks ago, the Vanguard put out a call for guest writers for periodic columns. We have gotten a good response for the most part to our call. The idea was to get a wider spectrum of subject matter and views expressed.
Around the same time, Dan Carson, serving as the Vanguard’s public editor, was critical of the Vanguard, suggesting, “I think The Vanguard should emphasize what it does best – reporting in-depth on news stories that on the natural stimulate important community conversations – and place less emphasis on commentaries that constitute pure punditry.”
This spawned some reader feedback and criticism of the Vanguard – which we have of course read, absorbed and responded to. We are working hard to incorporate some of the changes that were suggested, as well as implementing our goal of including more voices from the community on a variety of subjects that we are not able to cover as thoroughly as some others.
However, we have received a little pushback in some quarters. Some potential authors are interested in writing, but not that interested in subjecting themselves to personal attacks, particularly from anonymous commenters to whom they cannot fight back and defend themselves.
As I have stated many times, I firmly believe in the right to express oneself without fear of retaliation and consequence. For that reason, we have always allowed people to post comments without revealing their identity. But that right should go both ways.
For instance, I have noted at various times that some anonymous posters use personal information about a named commenter to attack them from behind the veil of anonymity. To me that is abusing one’s privilege of being able to use their anonymity as a cloak, to unleash a guerrilla offensive against named commenters.
Worst yet, we have the situation where an article is solicited because it has a different perspective from one that has been presented on the Vanguard, and the immediate response is a post from an anonymous poster questioning motives.
For example, yesterday we had an article from James Zanetto, a Davis architect and planner, and Stephen Wheeler, a professor of ecology at UC Davis, who submitted a guest piece on sustainability features for the new innovation centers.
We have discussed innovation centers a lot on the Vanguard, but it’s probably safe to say that sustainability is going to be a huge factor in getting voters to approve the project. Now you may or may not agree with that, and you may or may not agree with the authors.
We want lively debate and discussion. We want people to raise any objections and argue against the author’s thesis.
What we do not want is a post that quotes some from the article and then questions the motivations of the author. One poster wrote that “under the circumstances, this article seems pretty self-serving.”
That is not helpful. It doesn’t add to the discussion. And it will act to ensure that guest writers will not come forward in the future. Fortunately, the comment was removed by our moderator – I want to drive home the point, this is not the acceptable way to exchange comments and we are not going to tolerate it.
I saw later, yesterday evening, another poster suggesting in a snarky manner, “A better title for this article would be…” And then the poster proceeded to turn it into a negative attack.
I am not one to want to see us have to moderate, edit, or censor posts, but the tone here is not helpful for advancing the conversation, or getting additional voices to come on here and either post an article or a comment, and we need to change that.
We can disagree without being snarky, mean, nasty, or twisting people’s words, etc. We can have a good-spirited debate. I’m not interested in a site where everyone agrees with me or the author of a given piece. That is boring.
What I am interested in is a good exchange of viewpoints on the issues of the day. And I think we can do better without losing the many great strengths of this site.
We are still looking for guest writers. We want people who can talk about school issues, mental health, the homeless, land use, health services, transportation, food justice, the environment, zero waste. You don’t have to agree with the Vanguard on these issues – in fact, it is better to get a diversity of different viewpoints and different perspectives. And you don’t have to be bound by just these topics – we just wanted to have a few examples.
Anyone interested in writing a column or who has more questions, please email here.
Thanks for reading and please think about what you post and the tone of that post.
—David M. Greenwald reporting