By John Hubbuch
Darwin taught us that everything must adapt or die. Local weekly newspapers like this one are no exception. So late last September Wednesday Journal launched OakPark.com, the new and improved version of the print paper.
Now I had written a column for the print newspaper for more than 10 years. At one time I got paid $50 for each column, but budgetary considerations eliminated my stipend. I offered to pay the paper $50 for each column because I like writing it, but thankfully no one took me up on my offer. When the paper went electronic, I was asked to become a blogger. I was flattered and I work for free. I write for a public audience because it's fun — like playing golf or watching the Bears with my boys.
So I've written 99 blogs — like clockwork — two every week for a year. Sometimes I get no response. Crickets chirping. I just hope someone at least read it. Thank God for the Comcast building, District 97's referendum and crime in Oak Park. Like bear-baiting, those topics are guaranteed posted responses. I'm jealous of the food and fashion bloggers. They get lots of responses. I don't get it, but then I think all hot dogs and sushi taste the same, and Marsha buys my clothes.
At the outset, I was told by my bosses that we were looking for a neighborhood-over-the-back-fence conversational vibe. Unfortunately, our virtual neighborhood is populated by some neighbors who won't shut up. These posters have opinions on every issue in town, and keep posting and posting. They're smart, but not that smart. I suspect there are lots of people who would have really good insights on the many issues that confront us but are turned off by the incessant aggressive clamoring of a few. Like the Southern botanical scourge kudzu, other opinion is overwhelmed by a virulent species.
The posting is sometimes so diffuse as to be incoherent. I just quit reading. In the old days, a person had to take the time to write a letter, address an envelope and mail it. Today you can be sitting in your underwear on your fourth glass of Merlot and push a button. This ease of access, the notion that everyone's opinion is equally valid, and the ad hominem attacks on private citizens sometimes gives me pause as to what exactly is the point of all this. There's the obvious one: make money. The more traffic, the better. But what else? At its worst, it is a small group of people with personal agendas trying to show how smart they are. That will not be sustainable for the long term.
If the posters can't restrain themselves, then OakPark.com should. Limiting, editing or managing the frequency and content of the discussion is entirely within the purview of the owner. This has nothing to do with free speech. If you don't like it, start your own blog or shut up.
However, given the reality of one-party rule in village government and little budget for investigative reporting, the posters are about the only residents keeping a watchful eye on our governing bodies, and that is a good, even essential, thing. And there is a lot of very good and entertaining content.
So it's been an interesting year. I suspect all of us — editors, bloggers and posters can do better. Time will tell. Sometimes the journey is more interesting than the destination.