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Our reader comments and public discourse

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Anger and vitriol and bullying and name calling are nothing new in this country, but I can’t be the only person feeling weighed down by all of it right now. And while the internet didn’t create it, the internet has enabled it and given it power that it didn’t have previously.

This publication has received enormous benefits from the internet, making research and communication vastly easier and permitting us to expand and enrich our editorial offerings. The internet has also let readers comment quickly on what they’re reading and share those comments with other readers.

For most of the years that we’ve had a website, our comments section has been a pleasure to read and to operate, serving as a kind of online town hall, with readers sharing their thoughts on everything from politics to restaurants.

But as has happened with many other news media, a handful of readers have decided to use our comments section as a personal platform for tossing out anger and insults – under fictitious names, of course. (And in the case of one troll, under a variety of different fictitious names – sometimes posting a comment under one name, then congratulating himself for his brilliance, using a second fictitious name.)

We like the immediacy that an online comments section offers. And a healthy online comments section can spur good conversations about important or interesting community issues and events. Music critic Frank DeBlase’s recent F Word about the Rochester Music Hall of Fame did just that.

But the anonymity and insults and anger are destructive. Some publications, notably the New York Times, moderate their online comments heavily. And while we’ve done that to a degree (and sometimes been rewarded with insults from the commenters), our resources are better spent on our journalism.



And so this week we are disabling the comments function of our website.

You can still comment on our articles and on anything else you like. Email us, at this address: feedback@rochester-citynews.com. Include your real name and your city, town, or village – and, for verification purposes, your daytime phone number. We’ll publish as many of them as we can, assuming that they’re civil.

We do welcome your comments. But there’s far too much incivility in public discourse right now. We’re not willing to encourage it and provide a platform to spread it.

Speaking of comments

News media have a responsibility not only to inform the public about key current issues but to also solicit the public’s opinion. Two local topics deserve your attention right now: the crisis in the Rochester school district and City Council’s consideration of a Police Accountability Board.

State officials are wrestling with the question of the school district’s future: whether an elected school board should continue to be in charge of the city’s schools or the state should give that responsibility to someone else. Possibilities, of course, include some form of mayoral control.

City Council has to decide whether the police chief should have the final say about police officers’ actions or an independent group of citizens should have that authority.

Each of those decisions will have a major, long-lasting impact on the Greater Rochester community, and we’ll continue to devote a substantial part of our news space to each topic. But it’s important that the people making the decisions hear from the public. Whether you live in the city or not, we encourage you to contribute your thoughts on those key issues, by emailing your comments to our Feedback section – with your real name.