Bizarro World: A reality?

Opinion: Columns

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John Murtagh

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Htrae ("Earth" backwards) is a planet in Superman comic books. Its motto is, "Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!" In Htrae, trick-or-treaters go home to home giving out fruit — and calling someone smart is an insult.

Wednesday Journal has an "opposite" problem similar to Earth and Htrae. WJ has Printland (print version) and Webland (the Internet). Printland prides itself on dignity, fairness and professionalism. Webland is the opposite. WJ sees it as a safe house for monsters.

The masters of WJ find Webland comments outrageous, vile, disruptive and disrespecting of Oak Park Camelotness. The masters distain Webland and let their readers know how much distain they have in their gut

"Frequently I think [about] that when I read our online comments (Jim Coughlin being a notable exception). I'm glad our readers care enough to comment, but the regulars do so much emoting, 'fact'-spewing, name-calling, sneering and dissing, it seems the only real thought goes into the pseudonym they hide behind." (Ken Trainor, WJ staff writer and columnist)

"Predictably, the electronic miasma we call online comments did not focus on the contract but rather the tired arguments and complaints that teachers make too much money." (John Hubbuch, WJ columnist)

Even an editorial, supporting the Sertus proposal pitched in with, "But we don't buy the cynicism and the conspiratorial theories over how this long-debated, long-delayed ..." (a direct rebuke of some 600 posts about the Sertus proposal during the four weeks before the vote.)

The biggest thorn in Printland's side is the use of pseudonyms by Webland posters. About three-quarters of all posts are pseudonyms. WJ's preference is that all posters use their real names. Why do Webland posters want anonymity? They want to protect their right to privacy. The Internet is a known hangout for pirates, hackers, and identity thieves.

Considering WJ's disdain, the obvious question is: Why doesn't WJ impose harsh rules to reduce the chaos — or eliminate posting completely? Could advertising revenue be a factor?

Webland's news content comes from Printland — 100 percent and word for word. The marketing term for the relationship between Printland and Webland is downstream profit. That is, Webland has no news-gathering costs and generates ad revenue. If WJ eliminates the site or employs harsh rules to eliminate undesirables, they will lose posters. That could be expensive since the number of posts and posters are a factor in attracting advertising and determining how much WJ can charge for ads.

WJ has a Frankenstein-ish dilemma. Does it find a way to teach the monster to follow the genteel ways of Printland? Does it continue the use of editorial pressure to batter the monster into submission? Or does it kill off the monster because the villagers fear provocative comments?

WJ Comments gave voice to those wanting to express their opinion. That's good. The results have not been perfect. There are worthless, annoying and disruptive posts, but there are also insightful posts filled with research, analysis, thoughtful viewpoints, and an expression of the importance of Oak Park to their lives. Killing, battering, or refining the monster is not the answer. The answer lies in the determination that the voice of the people can be compatible with the voice of the press.

Htrae and Earth are still at war. While there is little to gain from their stridency, peace is too painful to pursue.

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