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DEAR READER: Sometimes the commentary becomes the news

Friday, January 8, 2010 | 3:19 p.m. CST; updated 10:48 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

There is no option for readers to delete their own comments at ColumbiaMissourian.com.  Should there be?

That question came up this week after a passionate discussion took place regarding the actions of Marching Mizzou following the Texas Bowl.

Margaret Fries, of The Woodlands, Texas, wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the band for playing at the same time Navy’s Drum and Bugle Corp. was performing following the Midshipmen’s 35-13 victory over the Tigers.

That’s when the comments took off.

Members of Marching Mizzou and other MU supporters came to the band’s defense, saying there was a miscommunication between the two camps and no disrespect was intended. Other Navy fans weighed in with criticisms similar to Fries’. Some of the comments were respectful and thoughtful – others were anything but.

Similar conversations were held on the Texas Bowl’s Facebook page. At Chron.com, home of the Houston Chronicle, one commenter posted the e-mail addresses of various MU officials to encourage irate fans to demand an apology.

Explanations that it was all just a mix-up were offered. MU officials apologized. While some fans remained skeptical (read their comments here), others accepted the explanation. And for a few, writer’s remorse set in.

Several commenters e-mailed to ask if their posts could be removed. One or two indicated that they expected there to be a button where users could delete their own posts. Fries, too, asked that her letter be removed from the Web site.

The decision was made not to remove the letter (to the best of my knowledge, the Missourian has never deleted a letter). It was the piece that sparked the conversation. There is no value in pretending it didn’t happen.

As for the comments, any that broke the posting rules – e.g. any that were personal attacks or included profanities – were removed. The rest were kept. These comments, just like the letter that sparked them, offer differing perspectives for this story. Eliminating those perspectives is like rewriting history, as if to say someone else’s view of what happened after the game didn’t matter.

Commentaries – whether they be traditional newspaper editorials, columns, letters to the editor and now online comments – offer context and understanding to controversial issues. The Navy fans who criticized Marching Mizzou may not have realized how dedicated those students are to their music. The MU folks who think  the other fans are just a bunch of “sore winners” may not have realized how important tradition is to a service academy like Navy.

Did we get it right, or should we allow commenters to remove their own posts whenever they have second thoughts?

Jake Sherlock is the Missourian's opinion section editor. He loves talking to readers and encourages you to e-mail him at SherlockJ@missouri.edu, give him a call at (573) 882-9951 or tweet him on Twitter @JakeSherlock.


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Comments

Lyndsey Nielsen January 8, 2010 | 5:14 p.m.

I am both an alumna of Marching Mizzou (the Texas Bowl was my last game) and a student working in the Missourian newsroom. Having been on both the receiving end of the band remarks and the (digital) discussion between the newsroom editors and other students like me, I feel that this is an interesting suggestion.

After Dr. Knight, Marching Mizzou's director, saw that students were identifying themselves on message boards and defending the organization, he sent out an e-mail reminder to all members of the marching band. He urged students to remove their comments and reminded them that they are not allowed to represent Marching Mizzou in controversial matters, as stated in the M2 handbook.

While the comments on the Missourian site from band members were not generally inappropriate, not having the option to delete them put them in a tough position. (I'm not sure if anyone actually tried to, though.)

Putting the controversy aside, what about when other reasons urge people to delete their comments? Are those comments the kind that would have been taken down if given this reasoning? I think it's an issue worth discussing for sure.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 8, 2010 | 8:40 p.m.

I post things I regret all the time.
Having the ability to remove one's post, on their own, however creates a continuity problem for the thread and becomes way to self-serving.
Can those who have their letters, to the editor, self-jettison its printing due to negative or unintended personal consequences?
What lessons do we learn? We're all flawed. We all make mistakes. It's probably better to take the lumps and go through a site manager. (After all, it's your property.)
As for me, every time I post, hope for the best, fear the worse and repeat this mantra I learned when I was a scout....
http://www.boyscouttrail.com/content/ski...
The Navy/Marching Mizzou misunderstanding was a rare situation, although it does remind me of.... this....one time, at Band Camp......

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 8, 2010 | 9:01 p.m.

Man, my cat doesn't agree with my prior posting and meowed that I've once again made a fool of myself.
(There's never a good self-delete icon around when you need one.)

(Report Comment)
David Rosman January 9, 2010 | 2:52 p.m.

Jake’s commentary is an example of the major problem with email, IMs, Twitter and other messaging systems. It becomes a case of “electronic foot-in-mouth” disease. As a commentator for the Missourian and other publications, I occasionally stop and decide if I really want to write and send “that.” My rewrites take longer than the initial thoughts. Even here.

Emotion is the primary reason for writing the newspaper. My first letter to the editor was based on my displeasure with the now defunct Rocky Mountain News. I cannot count the times I fought with myself to keep from hitting the “send” button.

Sometimes I wish that people who are angry with my opinion columns would do the same. But then…

Like Jake, I believe that the main purpose of the editorial pages is to open the discussion – right or wrong, opposition or support, angered or pleased. A delete button should not be available. There is an edit button.

Maybe, writers should take the advice given to me by an editor in London who said, “It is easier to write on the word processor and transfer to email than to write the email and send without consideration.”

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock January 9, 2010 | 7:59 p.m.

ha ha there are several comments I made in jest or just to play devils advocate that I would like to go back and delete. I think we need the option to delete our own comments.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 9, 2010 | 10:34 p.m.

("...there are several comments I made in jest or just to play devils advocate...")
You're joking......right?
It's so hard to tell.
Let me know when you get better at it.

*Subs so fast you'll freak!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 10, 2010 | 9:02 a.m.

Deletion of comments made, by the person who made them, hardly seems necessary.

We may at times make ill-advised comments, and we might also make good or even brilliant comments, but we should remember that we are not obliged to comment at all.

Conversely, the best comments may have been the ones we failed to make.

As the old saying goes, better to be hung for a wolf than for a sheep.

(Report Comment)

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