An often punchy and gutsy bonus section of newspapers and magazines is the letters to the editor. Such letters can draw your attention to an article missed or give a different slant on a contentious issue. And some letters bring up new issues or raise ones that have consequences for others.
A letter in the Advertiser (Feb. 13) by Dana Au, detailed a sewer back up that in the final analysis originated on the town line. But Dana has yet to be paid for costs incurred in June 2011. You have to wonder if that public letter got the town office in Grand Falls-Windsor jumping or digging in their heels?
Letter writing, especially in community newspapers, takes some nerve at times because of the mind set in small towns that can scoff at public points of view with...who do you think you are?
The Advertiser once printed letters with a "nom de plume"(e.g.
Concerned citizen) to allow concealment of real names. CBC radio used to allow callers to comment without revealing their name over the airwaves. But those anonymous days are gone.
Yet, online the Advertiser, CBC, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, National Post and many other national and international websites allow commentators to use concocted names to say pretty well anything they want within the guidelines of the website. Thus, the web is a cyber free-for-all with lots of anonymous nasty and vindictive personal attacks. Issues become irrelevant.
Provincially, former premier Brian Peckford voiced opposition to Muskrat Falls, but online more than one commentator wanted to bring up the Sprung greenhouse fiasco and not the issue at hand.
Federally, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has been personally attacked over the proposed, controversial, bill in Parliament that deals with Internet issues, including child pornography.
Municipally, the website Municipal Matters allowed people to make comments on the closure of the mill, expropriation, the hydro power, High Street and other issues. However, anonymous, nasty, personal attacks aimed at town councillors, mayors and MHAs often poisoned the good comments of others.
It's too bad the gutter crawlers show up online because they are such a contrast to the many anonymous commentators who can be not only insightful and thoughtful, but also hilariously witty.
Nasty online comments can be easily squashed if Internet sites had a "no anonymity" policy like print and broadcasters. The New York Times is on the forefront of killing low brow comments with the registering of commentators, rigorous comment standards and the use of real names only or shortened ones, showing location.
Meanwhile, sites that permit anonymous comments could make better use of filtering programs that weed out profanity, personal attacks, name-calling and vulgarity.
The column, Occupy Port aux Basques (Advertiser, Feb. 2), generated one online comment from someone named Lane. He or she said "Wow. The misinformation in this column is breath-taking." Yet, Lane did not point out any misinformation to me or readers. And went on to make (his or her) seven points.
Lane wasn't nasty, just anonymous. Why would Lane and others online hide their real names? Stooges? Political hacks? Employees? Hired consultants? Or just too intimidated to stand behind their comments? No matter. The anonymous online are not truly anonymous because computer IP addresses can be traced.
Meanwhile, the anonymous (leaking out crooked or questionable behaviour of politicians, police, business leaders, church officials and others in power) have their place. Ordinarily though, commentators online tend not to be whistleblowers.
Over all, I prefer commentators in any media to use their real names. However, I can tolerate concealing real names on the Internet as long as the comments are on the issue, civilized and without the - below the belt - personal attacks.
As for opinions, undoubtedly - with mill gone almost three years - there are plenty in this town and region as people gather in coffee groups, breakfast or lunch meetings, social settings, offices, staff rooms, women's groups and so on.
And surely, gatherings around the barbecue generate plenty of heat. And not just under the steaks!
Yet, all that talk becomes hot air - muted words that hardly ever become letters to the editor or even as anonymous comments online. Pity!
As for the cyber free-for-all with its rotten, nasty comments; hopefully, it will disappear - sooner rather than later - with cyber versions of Caller ID and Star 69.
For now though, the best remedy for the nasty and the likes. Delete, delete, delete!
Andy Barker at email@example.com