Staff editorial: Column sparks reader interaction

JagWire staff

Nearly 500 readers commented on the opinion column, “Football team unfairly overshadows other school activities,” Tuesday, Nov. 15, within two days of the column first being posted online. In two days, unique page views spiked to around 1,800 on Tuesday, Nov. 15 and 2,000 Wednesday, Nov. 16, up from around 120 views on Monday, Nov. 14, the day before.

What started as an opinion column quickly became an online forum for discussion, unprecedented for a website that had a previous comment record of around 10 comments. Student participation with the website has never been higher, but as comments on that story began to flood in, the JagWire staff quickly realized a comment policy was necessary to maintain a progressive discussion board for the column. Until that policy was established, all comments were temporarily held from display on the site.

In journalism, balancing what can legally be published with what should be published is always difficult. Initially, all comments were posted quickly simply because of the overwhelming amount of feedback. No comment policy was in place and to keep up with reader interest, staff members stayed up nearly all night to approve almost every comment, from nearly all sources. At the beginning, most comments were productive, thoughtful and mature. As the days progressed, however, and the post became a source for pent-up emotion, many comments began to dabble in areas of speech that journalists must handle carefully.

Profanity, personal attacks and anonymous sources filled the comments section and student discussion began seeping into the school day causing disruptions for teachers and administrators. Suddenly, the journalism department walked a fine line of freedom of the press. Many of the online comments would not have been published in print according to staff policies. In order to uphold the integrity of the program, the staff quickly realized the necessity of holding the website to the same standards as the print edition.

The week after, on Monday, Nov. 21, all comments were re-filtered and approved according to the new comment policy that appears at the bottom of every online post. Comments with profanity, libel, foul language, personal attacks and anonymous sources or sources without a verifiable email address were not approved. Roughly half of all comments upheld the standards of this new policy.

Inevitably, questions relating to this policy will come up and the article itself has been openly challenged in various types of discussion. Some have said the article was divisive and should not have been published. Journalists do not always make friends. But, in regards to student press rights, Kansas Senate Bill 62 affords students the rights as professionals and states, “These rights include, but are not limited to, all First Amendment rights, including rights of freedom of speech and the press, insofar as published items may not contain libelous, slanderous or obscene statements, may not cause a substantial disruption to normal school activity.”

This bill summarizes both freedom of student press and its limitations. Both aspects of the law were taken into account when the column was published and later when the comment policy was created.

Additionally, the JagWire seeks to serve as a voice for the student body. Certainly student reaction to the column seem to support the notion that this voice is being heard, whether the opinion column reached unanimous agreement or not.

In addition to comments on the story, feedback can be sent via email to [email protected] or hand-delivered to the journalism room, C101. We want to continue to hear from you.

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