Still there were some nice messages in there, and one in particular caught my eye. A faithful reader wrote to ask — plead, really — regarding Town Square, the Voice's online forum.
Specifically, she wondered: What's it good for? Given all the bigots, crazies and negative nellies on there, it seems to be more of a failed experiment than a useful tool. Or so she thought.
I think her message speaks to the concerns of many readers. Below is her abridged e-mail, followed by my response:
I would like to wish you and the Voice well in the coming year.
I also want to tell you that I'm seriously considering making a New Year's Resolution not to read Town Square. It's a waste of time and resources.
I would really like to know what you're trying to do with this feature. At this point, it offers us no useful info and often no display of even common courtesy by the contributors. The same proudly ignorant and often bigoted people seem to be spending all their time just mouthing off.
The format of the feature openly encourages this unproductive behavior by not requiring people to provide their real names. If they had to do that, perhaps they might think a bit before hitting send. Do you think it's worth a try?
A funny thing about the Internet: Now you know what everyone is thinking. Turns out, maybe you didn't want to know.
As for your suggestion: Unfortunately, requiring that people put their real names before posting is not logistically possible. Short of making them come down to the office with a photo ID, how would you do it?
Town Square has had some good aspects. It helps us to know what stories people are interested in. It has led to actual scoops before (the postings can act as a sort of rumor mill). It's been a good emotional outlet in some cases, as when Rosemary Stasek died. And from a business standpoint, it increases our page views dramatically, which makes our online ads much more viable — and that's the future of newspapers, so we're not about to give that up.
Bottom line: It's here to stay. Though frankly I don't blame anyone for skipping it. Many faithful readers get the full Voice experience while never bothering with Town Square — remaining just as blissfully ignorant of it as I was over the past week.