As the Star moves to a new commenting system powered by Facebook, several online commenters in the old anonymous system have asked if unsigned editorial opinions of The Anniston Star aren’t covered.
A poster who goes by the handle “FrustratedJoe” asked, “Will that also include the ‘Editorial Staff[?]’” FrustratedJoe goes on to insinuate The Star’s reporters are editorializing in the newspaper’s opinion pages, and closes by wishing for “[n]o more Ghost Writers at the Star.”
Let’s take these questions one at a time.
None of The Stars reporters, meaning the journalists who cover the news, sports and features of our community, write the unsigned editorials that appear under the masthead on the left-hand side of the editorial page.
The editorials represent the institutional opinions of The Anniston Star. Topics range from purely local issues to ones making an impact on our state, nation and world. They celebrate victories. Mourn losses. Offer advice when warranted. Call out serious wrongdoing. Suggest compromises between warring factions. Hold government and large institutions accountable. Encourage us to bigger and better things.
Editorials are written by individuals expressing the collective views of our editorial board. The writers of each editorial are not merely expressing a personal view, but one in line with the paper’s institutional view.
The tradition of unsigned editorials stretches back to the dawn of newspapers. Perhaps history’s most famous editorial, The New York Sun’s “Yes, Virginia” ode to Santa Claus, was published unsigned. Most newspapers carry on the tradition today.
I like the way my pal and the editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press Ron Dzwonkowski puts it, “The unsigned editorial is the voice of a concerned community institution, a local business that, in addition to trying to make money, has a mission enshrined in the Constitution to serve as an independent watchdog on government and public policy. The editorial voice – a product of consensus that is not always what the writer would say were he or she speaking as an individual – should carry more weight than an individual's column or blog.”
There has been a small but growing movement to attach names to institutional opinions. For a local example look no further than the Huntsville Times, which includes the names of its editorials’ writers.
A final word on the changing from anonymous commenting and Facebook: What the change to a Facebook-powered commenting system allows The Star is an opportunity to better police those posters who have misused the site by frequently dealing in name-calling and foul language. Attaching real names and Facebook user profile photos helps, but of equal value from the new system is a more able method of banning users who violate the rules of civil dialogue.
- Bob Davis, editor of The Anniston Star
The bottom of my Sunday column mentions looming changes in way way commenters can post remarks at the bottom of The Star's online articles. To wit:
The days of anonymous commenting at AnnistonStar.com are rapidly coming to a close. We are currently testing commenting software that would require website commenters to post their first and last names alongside their comments.
This is part of a move to eliminate some of the worst behavior in story comments. In recent months, our editors have had their hands full cleaning up comments that fail to comply with our rules. In short, those rules are no personal attacks, no name-calling and comments must stay on topic.
The subject of online commenting and anonymity has roiled the digital space in recent years. Many publications, particularly newspapers, have pulled back from the free-for-all that was online commenting when the web first became popular. Over time, The Star’s newsroom and others across the country have come to see the commenting section of a website needs more accountability and safeguarding lest it turn into a ghetto of bitterness, personal attacks and angry and offensive language.
The plan is to continue to apply our current rules with a few more added, namely better identification of the person posting the comments. Think of it as the “letter to the editor rule.” Printed submissions to Speak Out must follow our guidelines for style as well as include first and last name, plus hometown. The letters we print are often sharp in their rhetoric, yet they carry the credibility that the writer was willing to attach his or her name and hometown to the opinions expressed. Very soon we intend to apply the same standard to online comments. Expect more details in coming weeks.
From How We Are Governed In Alabama And The Nation by Howard Lee McBain and Isaac William Hill (1916 edition).
"The day is not far distant, however, when every child in the state of Alabama may have the opportunity, at least, of securing a splendid education, free of all direct cost to his family, under the patronage and support of the State government."
Jacksonville State and the University of Alabama both kick off the 2009 football season in Atlanta this Saturday.
JSU plays Georgia Tech in the afternoon. Alabama plays Virginia Tech in the evening.
The Star's John Fleming is working on a story for fans looking to make the trip to Atlanta for one or both of the games. He'll offer tips on driving to the stadiums, taking public transit, where to eat, where to park, where to drink, etc.
Got any tips on driving, tailgating or anything else Atlanta-related? Share them with John at email@example.com