In June, 2005, the editors of The Wichita Eagle started a blog, the Wichita Eagle Editorial blog, or WE Blog.
The way this blog works it that one of the Eagle editors starts a topic, and then the public can add comments.
A small group of the posters who make these comments seem to know each others’ reputations well, and postings from this group account for nearly all the content of the blog. They have had, by my count, two social gatherings. From posts filed by the attendees, they seemed like enjoyable affairs. I was surprised to read these pleasant accounts, as on the blog, people are usually quite mean and nasty.
It usually doesn’t take very long before the posts on many topics disintegrate into name-calling, sometimes using the foulest language imaginable, language that The Eagle won’t print in the newspaper. In fact, even the editors won’t use this language themselves on the blog, although from time to time they may use these words in sanitized form.
Often when someone who has a history of posting — and therefore a reputation — posts an opinion or makes an argument, someone will point that the poster is a Democrat or a Republican, or is liberal or conservative, and therefore the opinion or argument is to be discounted. This is a common form of argument. Or someone will point out that the poster said something stupid in the past, so this is stupid, too.
Often posters use terms of art such as “BushBots,” “BushCo,” “Repukes,” and “Wingnuts” when referring to others. Conservative posters have similar terms they use, too. These terms are used as insults or to advance an argument or opinion.
Commonly, when someone presses a point a follow-up post makes the demand “show me a link.” Dutifully the original poster finds a link that supports their argument, and almost always it will be derided as coming from a source that is not valid or trustworthy because it is liberal, conservative, or has some other defect in the eyes of the poster. Sometimes entire articles are posted, almost certainly in violation of the copyright.
It is my sense that many of the topics started by the editors are calculated to allow those with left-leaning sensibilities the opportunity to launch attacks on conservatives and right-leaning posters. It does seem to me that the majority of the regulars on the blog are near the left of the political spectrum.
The left, too, seems to get the best of the conservatives much of the time. But that’s not surprising. Government, at all levels, is too big and powerful and tries to do too many things. As government overreaches, it inevitably makes mistakes, and therefore is an easy target for criticism. If the left wins political power over the next few years, it too will be on the defensive for all the misguided things that it tries to do.
When a person posts to the blog, they enter a name — real or otherwise — and an email address, again real or not. There is no security of any type, and it is therefore possible for one person to make a post using the identity of some other poster. There is no way for readers of the blog to detect that this has happened, except from an analysis of the content of the message. A few posters claim this happens regularly to them.
This lack of accountability as to the origin of the post is a problem. One’s identity is not safe, as others can post in your name. Other discussion forum systems often require some form of registration, tracing an identity back to an email address, usually, and then requiring login with a password before posting. With this, readers can be sure that something posted under a name did, in fact, come from that person.
The discussions also die prematurely in some cases. Not that the topics disappear, but after a few weeks they move to an archive section, where they can still be read and posted to, but it seems like few topics survive this archiving. So some discussions that have merit in continuation stop.
There is also the problem that the only issues that are discussed are ones that the editors decide to start a topic on, although topics can drift to any subject, and there are “open threads” that are started occasionally. Most discussion forum systems, though, have threaded topics and allow users to start topics on their own. Threaded topics would allow new threads of discussion to be split off as the flow of discussion changes. These systems also allow replies to be associated with a specific post, so that readers can easily read a reply in the context of the post that inspired it. That isn’t present with the current system the Wichita Eagle Editorial Blog uses.
A curious fact is that The Eagle has discussion boards that have many of the features that make discussion forums work better. These boards are not as popular as the blog, and seem to have their own small group of regular posters.
I do not recommend spending time reading the Wichita Eagle Editorial Blog. The mean-spirited nastiness of the bulk of the posts far outweighs the few redeeming things you might learn. The group of regular posters is so partisan, the discourse so bitter and shrill, so full of cruel sarcasm, that readers are likely to come away angry and disillusioned. In fact, a topic started today by Phillip Brownlee titled “Hard to shake faith of the faithful” points out how a person’s perspective colors their judgment of events, and how each party believes they are right, no matter what the facts and evidence show. There’s lots of evidence of this type of behavior on this blog. Still, I must confess that sometimes, like when passing a car wreck, I can’t resist taking a peek.
My preference is to reduce the power of government to the point that there is little that government does that is important enough to argue over.