Word of Mouth is irresponsible

Posted: Thursday, March 16, 2000

As a former reporter, assistant editor and editorial writer at the Empire, I've been waiting for months to find any redeeming value in Word of Mouth. I'm still waiting.

While most of Word of Mouth is harmless, too much of it spreads ignorance and anger. That's not the role of the newspaper or an editorial page. Your job is to generate and guide informed community debate, not open up the phone lines and print whatever shows up on the answering machine.

As expected, your disclaimer says you won't print libelous material. But what about inaccuracies, partial facts and, sometimes, hateful remarks? Word of Mouth often becomes a vicious circle of charges and countercharges - all based on an incorrect premise that started the whole argument.

I have a question, then a suggestion. First, where did Word of Mouth come from? Since I left the Empire five years ago, has there been some new pronouncement from the halls of journalism that it's OK to print anonymous, inaccurate, sometimes nasty stuff?

Now the suggestion. You can easily revitalize your Letters to the Editor section by taking phoned-in letters. Unlike Word of Mouth, callers would be required to give their name and phone number. An editor would then verify the name for publication and, if there were obvious inaccuracies, work with the caller to revise the letter.

Juneau's a great town with lots of well-informed, opinionated folks. Your editorial page should be a thoughtful forum for intelligent debate, not a bugle blast of anonymous whining.

Bruce Scandling

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