We encourage our readers to voice their opinions, even when we do not agree with the opinions.
For 173 years, the Victoria Advocate has made room for readers’ opinions through our letters to the editor and guest columns found on the Viewpoints page. In that format, readers can voice their opinions once every 30 days. This format conveyed a civil conversation.
Then, in the 21st century, with the onset of the internet and social media, we have added more opportunities for readers to express their opinions by allowing comments on stories and encouraging readers to blog.
All of these have guidelines for readers to follow, which was easy for us to monitor before the internet. Let’s face it, social media has changed the way people express their opinions and has made monitoring much more complicated.
All of us have opinions on everything, even if we do not know what we are commenting on. Unfortunately, on social media, the civility we are accustomed to disappears all too often.
As your family-owned community newspaper, we take seriously our job to monitor comments and to promote a constructive community conversation.
Recently a regular blogger posted a political cartoon concerning the president and immigration. Although it was his opinion, it upset readers who demanded we take down the cartoon. The digital twist on the issue is the cartoon never appeared in print – it was only online with the blogger’s post.
We took the issue to our ethics board, as is our common practice when people ask for an item to be removed from the internet. The board is made up of Advocate staff and Crossroads community members. We had a lengthy and lively open discussion.
The board agreed the photo the cartoon was based on was a powerful news photo, but the community members felt the cartoon was inflammatory.
They said it was offensive – the same opinion many of our readers had expressed.
We all agreed political cartoons are designed to bring reaction – which this one did.
We questioned the legality of the copyrighted cartoon being published without permission from the artist. The blogger found it on the internet and made it the focal point of his blog. On social media, people routinely post content without permission, but our newspaper works to uphold higher standards than that.
We talked at length about the importance of readers expressing their opinions.
In the end, we decided to have each blogger add a disclaimer to all blogs saying the views expressed are those of the writer and not of the Victoria Advocate.
Before this discussion, the rules for blogging were posted only at the top of the blog section.
At the end of the discussion, which lasted almost an hour, we took a vote – and to no one’s surprise, it was split. Most of the community members voted to take down the cartoon, while most of the staff voted to keep it up.
After the meeting, we had more discussion among the staff and decided to take down the cartoon but leave up the rest of the blog and add an editor’s note explaining why the cartoon was removed. The decision was based on two factors – the ethics board conversation and the fact the cartoon was copyrighted and we did not have permission to publish it.
The action shows how seriously we take our responsibility of promoting other people’s ideas. It is not a right or privilege we take for granted.
Every day, we as Americans must remember freedom of speech is guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but we have the responsibility to treat that freedom with care to make sure it is not abused.
We also must be willing to allow people to express their opinions, even if we do not agree with them. We encourage all of you to submit letters to the editor, guest columns and blog posts at VictoriaAdvocate.com. We welcome this healthy discussion.