How does a newspaper allow lively, stimulating and intelligent conversation on its social media accounts, while at the same time making it a welcoming environment for all who want to participate?
The answer is simple, though the requisite actions are complicated. But it's similar to the philosophy with masks: In a democracy, the majority should rule. And decent folks don't make a habit of insulting other people, although they may do so when they themselves have been ruthlessly attacked.
Dozens of people have indicated that they want to be part of discussions on the TDP Facebook timeline, but they want to do so without fear of being disparaged or lied about. And since TDP took some steps to wash out some of the hate, they've felt more comfortable. In case a few folks are tempted to assume those who call for civility are all "liberals," or "snowflakes" as the detractors may define them, they need to think again. There are many on both sides of the fence who yearn for rational, respectful dialogue. They are willing to listen to opposing views, and consider them.
Newspapers want their social media accounts to operate much like their print and e-editions: They want to broadcast actual news and feature stories about interesting people in the community. What they don't want is to crowd their timelines with material they wouldn't normally publish. That's why some requests for "sharing" have to be denied.
As noted last week, posting "missing persons" reports about people who aren't actually missing is disingenous, and it misleads readers. The same goes for GoFundMe accounts that tug at the heartstrings, but come from sources that don't deserve consideration or contributions. But since newspapers don't generally publish stories about missing pets, child custody disputes, lost and found items, cards of thanks or yard sales, it stands to reason they wouldn't post those on Facebook, either. The germane question is always this: Is the material of general interest to the community at-large, or does it only apply to a very small group? If the latter, it doesn't necessarily belong on a newspaper's timeline, though it certainly may belong on the timeline of those groups.
Over the past month or so, the Daily Press has been offering "free reads" for a number of high-profile stories. Since the pandemic began, most stories related to that topic are free - in other words, placed in front of the "paywall." Even that move has its critics; some people apparently don't feel our writers are entitled to compensation for the work they do, and feel all stories should be free. Those same people can be expected to favor free market principles - except, apparently, for media entities, which by and large are privately owned and thus part of those "free market" considerations.
The most persistant requests for help the TDP receives come from those who are searching for details on their "Cherokee princess" grandmothers. Second most common are requests for help collecting money - to pay for tuition, buy a prom dress, or other pleas of a very personal nature. Even if newspapers had the staff to help with these requests, it would still not constitute news - and it's not why people land on our Facebook page - or, for that matter, or website, e-edition or other forums.
The question - "is it really news?" - is simple, but people asking that question have to be honest, and consider whether the item they want publicized would be interesting to them if it came from someone else. Odds are, it wouldn't - and that's why parameters are so important.