Editors at both newspapers have long wrestled with the issues that have arisen because of the anonymity of Topix posts and the pervasive comments from people who have axes to grind or poison to spew.
As Fr. Midura wrote, "... Many responses are written by people who could not possibly have an ounce of respect or compassion and appear to be in a state of personal torment ... unless the writer completes an accurate profile, no one truly knows who the author is -- complete freedom of expression without putting your honor on the line."
While we agree with this assessment, we have chosen to allow the forum to continue, somewhat unfettered, because of its value as a sounding board for important matters and a place where opinions can be voiced with little fear of censorship (within reason) or retribution.
However, we understand the valid and compelling arguments on the other side, and we have tried to eliminate the most noxious of the Topix posts while maintaining the integrity of the various threads.
It's not easy. When dealing with public officials, for example, where is the line between personal attacks or valid criticism? Some have used the forum to launch a series of accusations about Mayor John Barrett III, many of which are vulgar, uncalled for and untrue. On the other hand, they should feel free to criticize his policies or decisions they disagree with and to make their points as strongly as they wish.
Sometimes, we, as "censors" are vilified for taking posts off the forum. Just yesterday, we removed two entire threads of comments -- one because people were using the forum to make vulgar scatological jokes, the other because it had degenerated into a series of personal attacks about people caught in a drug bust and -- shamefully -- their families.
All too many other topics have resulted in similar disintegration -- away from issues of relevance, impact and timeliness and into name-calling, vulgarity and just plain stupidity. We can't allow that or we lose any credibility the Topix forums have.
To that subject, we believe there is credibility, validity and often great value in these forums, which is why we have allowed them to continue. Used sensibly, they can result in scintillating discussions, pertinent information that may not yet have made its way into the news and valid criticisms of news stories, columns and editorials.
For example, most recently Julia Bowen of the BArT charter school has elaborated on why she has targeted Conte Middle School for enrollment at that school; Fr. Midura and others have espoused a multitude of views about the closing of St. Stanislaus and other Catholic churches; readers have debated various aspects of the Hoosic River; anonymous baseball fans have embarked on a debate about all-time players and the current Red Sox team; readers have initiated a number of polls on current issues.
The point is, we have weapons to use against the cretins who would steal away our valuable community sounding board and make it their own personal chat room. We can flag offensive posts or post our own comments to let people (and the censors) know when they are out of line.
More importantly, we can take back these blogs and make them our own by making our comments relevant and on topic. We, the decent, honest, caring and sensible who represent the vast majority of our North Berkshire community, can push out the obnoxious few who give such offense and make them feel as irrelevant as they actually are.
We pledge our continued support in this endeavor and ask you for yours. Take back the blogs! Help make the Topix forum all that it could and should be. Starting right now