Monday, June 02, 2008

Standard-Times Time-out

As it happens I had just last week written the Standard-Times my quarterly subscription check, so I shall continue to find my daily supply of fishwrap on the lawn most of the summer. After Sunday's column I can't think of a reason I should continue to fund the enterprise. No, that's unfair, the local paper is always worth reading. My very first published editorial was in the Raleigh NC News and Observer, an unabashedly liberal paper whose ownership included some of the archtects of FDR's New Deal. That goes back a ways, JFK was still President when my first editorial got ink.

I would have been pleasently surprised to find a Sunday lead editorial giving us the sincerely apologetic straight story on how the "outing" of anonymous posters happened. The explanation so far provided lacks in timeliness, details or sheer believability. What I was not prepared for was to find myself and my fellow readers lectured to, admonshished like naughty children and essentially put on "time out" and probation!

I quite agree with editor Archuleta, the quality on online posts is on the decline, but whose fault is that? Look, anonymity was never an issue for me. I "outed" myself when I took Archuleta's seat on the City Charter Review Committee just to put aside any ethical concerns about advocating for that Committee's recommendations.

Those posters who trusted the Standard-Times to abide by its privacy policy, those people who expessed opinions they would otherwise have been reluctant to state for attribution, people who have legitimate concern over possible retribution on the job or in the marketplace, those are the people with a complaint. At its best, the online comment site did attract loons and irresponsible comments. In a typical "thread" from a given story with enough interest to go "hot", let's say 50 comments, I would usually see maybe half that were worth the time to read, but so what?

One soon learned to skip lightly past the sillier tin-foil hat wearing authors, perhaps take them in for amusement. Sadly, a lot of the folks whose commentary I became accustomed to looking forward to have vanished, and who can blame them? I don't know how the Standard-Times can ever regain the trust of its readers. I suspect the San Angelo Police Dept. is experiencing a bit of difficulty developing new "confidential informants" in drug cases. Similarly there, only the desperate or the deranged would put their lives on the line and trust that organization not to put their identity on the front page. Trust once betrayed is exceedingly difficult to regain, be it a marriage, a church, or a newspaper.

What I do know is that everything the S-T has done so far has been just about precisely wrong. The "leak" of user profiles had been out there for 10 days, was being actively discussed by posters whose feelings of betrayal were evident in their comments before the S-T ink-on-dead-trees edition acknowledged it. Then the article revealing it used the "outed" user profiles to out one of the high profile Police Chief candidates, compounding the betrayal of anonymity. Assuming that article should have been written and published (two separate actions, BTW), It should have gone beyond identifying Davis and mentioned that all the candidates were using online anonymity to post, if not directly, certainly through surrogate spokespersons. I caught this incident fairly early, an SAPD source gave me a heads up that lists of user profiles were circulating in the Dept. by Thursday noon, but by the time I knew about, the barn door had been shut.

Amazingly, the S-T seems still to maintain its IT people don't talk to its reporters, who have to go to out-of-paper sources for information. While S-T passes blame to "new employees" in a Tennessee division of Scripps-Howard, a check this weekend shows the other papers in the chain are managing to keep their online comments services up and reasonably well moderated. Tells me we do have a problem, and that problem is somewhere in the Harris St. building.

Newspapers across the country are realizing the old fishwrap on the lawn model is trending toward buggy-whipdom. A recent NPR interview revealed the San Francisco Chronicle, heart of the Hearst chain, is losing a $million a WEEK. I believe the ink version of the Standard- Times is down to about 25% of households. When I was a young man, no one with pretensions of caring about "things" would have admitted to not reading the paper, and a hefty chunk of them paid for morning and afternoon editions.

I don't know how significant online revenues are to the S-T overall, but I know that online edition is a revenue source. As treasurer of two local issues SPACS, I have made out checks to pay for those annoying ads. Commercial advertizers want to see numbers of "hits" and "pageviews" to justify the ad rates. One can safely predict a sharp drop there during this "cooling off" month.

My co-author makes the case well that anonymous comments have a justifiable place in public discussion. Often exactly the people with real knowledge are in a position vulnerable to pressure from employers or commercial partners, and unlikely to risk comments for attribution. This reality justifies whistle-blower statutes granting anonymity and/or legal blocks to workplace retribution.

I hope during this period the S-T will re-examine the no anonymous posts policy announced by Mr. Archulteta. Allowing anonymity does not necessarily result in a slanderous free-for-all, that's where moderation comes into play. Set rules, keep them simple, and ENFORCE them.


  1. I don't think that the S-T or Sr. Archuleta can ever be trusted to maintain anonymity. I was amazed to find that my name, address and screen name were being "passed around" in the DA's office. I had committed the heinous crime of supporting a candidate other than Sr. Vasquez. I think that Scripps needs to do a thorough house cleaning down there on Harris!

  2. It has been my experience that upper managers will overreact when presented with a controversial topic, especially if they are caught off guard. The daily grind and actions of a company are usually held in check or influenced by the worker bees. Those on the front line..for instance..sales, marketing, editorials, web staff, and even the print press operator, have a duty to share their views and feedback. Through daily activities, they can present valuable insight to managers to give them a glimpse of trends. It those glimpses that show an upper manager warning signs or even opportunities.

    Managers do well when they are in tune with their staff. I have worked in many organizations. From experience, I can say any manager who doesn't listen to his employees will reap the results. These events usually take a little while to develop, maybe a year or two, but inevitably they come. Then someone comments, I wonder why it happened all of a sudden. In reality, it was the results of decisions a year or so ago.

    Also, employees who live in a hostile environment or always in fear of losing their jobs, will start playing politics. Internal politics are normal, but ultimately they take the focus off of the main course, which is the business. Politics within a business are usually associated with trying to outdo your coworker.

    Competition is normal, but must be based on standards. Managers may never show partiality, they have to be fair. Its good when people feel secure about their jobs. Its good when the right people are put in the right positions.

    Now in San Angelo, there is also the local politics. In these matters, its my belief the manager or boss must shield the workers from these matters. These matters are inherently private, eg..the workers don't need to know, and at the same time, the manager must always think of his employees and business revenue first.

    I saw an organization go down the drain once, simply because they brought in a fellow who was convinced he was so much better and smarter than all his employees, he commenced to treating them like dogs. He was from Chicago, and its possible he grew up in that sort of environment and thought he needed to be a Theory X manager.

    You have to believe that people are responsible, want to work, and will do their best for you if managed right.

    The fact is..the Times could experience tremendous growth and revenue..if they manage it right.

    Ultimately, a paper is about writers. Well, we the citizens of San Angelo have shown them, we like to gab and discuss things.

    Well, in the world we live in today, we need more of that. We need some people with some real answers. We need to start thinking more about things.

    The paper is the avenue for this to take place. Why not set our goal for becoming some of the greatest thinkers in the country. Why not provide an avenue where this can happen..let the most talented lead...and lets explore those issues..

    I witnessed recently how the entire world came to our doorstep and picked our minds. I am proud of our citizens here who can debate anyone in the world.

    I believe based on the background and environment of San Angelo, we may have something to offer many places do not have.

    I thought about the reasons I moved here. I thought I was the only one, but I found out many like me, philosophers, like to move to San Angelo.

    God bless us all, and I got a C in English class. I still need to work on my writing skills and grammar. Need to read up on that.

  3. When I called the paper Monday morning to speak to Mr. Archuleta about his Sunday column on suspending comments I was told he had left town for a week. That is very interesting timing from an editor who preaches to readers about "courage of convictions."

  4. One of the punished children here... I missed out the day all of the posters information was given out. I was wondering did that include our addresses? I know I have posted several things not a huge amount but am concerned as to exactly what all information was released and what do we do if we find out it was used against us in any fashion. This breach concerns me greatly.

    i would also like to comment on the fact we were silenced as bad little children for expressing our minds. I know that we blog on ST servers and such but San Angelo wants to see it's self as a larger city then they need to take the good with the bad and that is part of it. Just because the comments made San Angelo look like a bunch of Neanderthals ( and we are not all) is no reason to block the comments. There is great backward thinking when it comes to our court systems.

    I think the Standard Times jumped the gun with the pull and while it affords itself the first amendment it denied others because it made someone with power uncomfortable.

    The trust the breached well, there is no excuse for that and we were the only area affected. hmmm no other blog outlet has this problem therefore a public apology is warranted. Is there any reports on how this information is now being used?

  5. I think most people can handle controversial subjects. Except, when it comes to child molesters, polygamy, and pedophilia. I never realized such a large group supported such things.

    Also, if you don't condone homosexuality, you may find yourself in court.

    I feel like we meddled in an argument that really belonged in Utah. So, we experienced some of the similar darker powers involved for the first time. I'm certain Utah and Arizona have already felt that effect.

    My only thoughts on the subject golly ...this is Texas..and we do things our own way.

    Being politically correct, or standing silent when you know something is wrong doesn't hold water.

    I fear we have an undercurrent in this country of lawbreakers and defiance. Defiance against the law, the system, the traditional family, and all our sacred institutions. We are being dismantled as a country and why.

    the answer is normally, money, greed, or power

    Simply because its too intimidating and scary to do anything but be passive and sit silently by as everything we hold dear slips away.

    Decent, honest, hardworking, moral people have to learn not to project who they are and what they hold dear onto those less deserving. Its not reality.

    don't cast pearls before swine, lest ye be trampled.

    Instead, they need to search their minds. Be thoroughly established in the doctrines of the Gospel of Christ. Thats my personal opinion.

    Okay, I probably lost someone there. So, I will give you an example. Which do you prefer most, and honest man or a liar? Do you like someone who will work for their livelihood, or mooch? How well do you like a thief? Do you prefer a selfish person or one who serves their community?

    Today, I saw on the news a person ran over in traffic. As they lay there helpless, not one soul came foward to help. Is that who we want to be as a nation. Do we have any humanity left.

    Tell me now cause we may all need to put our six shooters back on like in the old west.

  6. I have a feeling the outing of people was related to the chief race. For all we know, they used the homeland security program to divulge the information. Imagine the fall out. It would be easier to say, it was a web site accident.

    This sounds like a conspiracy theory, but consider the circumstances. We were in the middle of a highly competitive election. None of the other websites experienced a similar experience. The information was used to sway the race.

    So, whether it was an inside job at the times or a misuse of government property and resources, I dont know. We may never know the whole truth. I don't really care, its over.

    Who knows..maybe when Obama is elected, a lot of shocking information may come out

  7. This "time out" seems to present a golden opportunity to create a viable on-line alternative to the standard-times.

    i am suffering from "comment withdrawal," and I'll bet many others are, too.

    Some bright entrepreneur could snatch away a considerable chunk of the s-t's on-line audience now by putting up a website with daily local news that is comment-friendly.

    Are there any energetic, dedicated citizen journalists out there willing to take on the task?

  8. anonymous of June 6, 1:48 AM; the revealed user profiles would have shown whatever you supplied whemn you signed up. About the only verifiable part was he e-mail address, and some people create throw-aways on that. Some people filled in false id info, and looking back, who can blame them?

    If you filled in true info about yourself, that is what was revealed. Obviously, a lot of people did not.

    snicklefritz; (where did you come up with that handle? Love it).

    I saw the same story, Hartford Conn. a few blocks from the state capitol. Had a radio car responding to another call not passed by, the poor old guy might have still been there as rigor mortis set in. Now we read the Governor's Mansion has been torched in Austin. One gets the feeling safety is up to the individual. If some fellow can set the Gov's house on fire, how safe is yours and mine?

    BTW, snickle, I'm pretty confident this site will not betray anonymity, but if you out yourself, it ain't our fault.

  9. Brother Ryan and others:

    First, I don't believe there was any conspiracy to unmask those saying less than supportive things about Mr. Vasquez. I prefer to think that someone simply screwed up, although it was a pretty hairy mistake when one is charged with maintaining the anonymity of contributors to a posting service.

    The subsequent editorial associated with all this, however, was a major faux pas on the part of the S-T. Bad move.

    Second, I believe that those good folk who provide factual personal information in signing up for things like this are naive. I have dealt with computers since the days of the IBM 1620, and have diddled with PCs since before they had hard drives. My Internet experience goes back to Archie, Gopher, and all that good stuff.

    I have never fully trusted Internet security and have always sought to protect myself. Human and system shortcomings cannot ensure one hundred percent security, and as a result I have always sought to provide only the minimum amount of information necessary to allow me to do what I want to do, whether it be financial or something lighter like accessing a posting service. Were one to access my profile here one would find that I am Portnoy Schlabotnik, and I live at 1234 Disparaging Way in East Jesus, Nebraska. I DO have a valid e-mail address:, for those who might in a fit of boredom wish to contact me directly.

    How can the S-T deal with people who provide fictional information should they shift to a "non-anonymous" environment?

    Third, the good folks at the S-T were, in my alleged mind, dealing with a deteriorating situation regarding the content of the "Comments" section. Most people posting there clearly try to make a positive contribution to the overall discourse, but others equally clearly seek only to mouth their personal hates/biases or blabber forth things they would never have the courage to say in a face-to-face context. These people play some kind of mindless, cowardly game. I really don't blame the S-T for establishing a cooling off/reassessment period, although the aforementioned fools are easy enough to ignore.

    What I do NOT want is for the S-T to pull the plug for keeps on the service, since I feel it adds a great deal to the exchange of information related to matters important to the good people of San Angelo. The comments are a major reason I access the Web site every day. And, I should mention, I still maintain a paper subscription at an address in San Angelo. That can always change.

    I guess we'll see how it all shakes out, won't we?



  10. quote.. "but others equally clearly seek only to mouth their personal hates/biases or blabber forth things they would never have the courage to say in a face-to-face context"

    Isn't that how ideology goes? If someone doesn't like Muslim extremists, they should just keep their views to themselves. They have a right to do whatever they want, right. including building nukes or whatever

    If they dont support polygamy, then keep the mouth shut

    If you think pedophiles are wrong in every way, we dont need to hear the hateful spew from you, right

    or whatever you believe, if it offends anyone, then forget it

    now, if you wanna criticize elected officials or govt thats fine. Lou Dobbs will save you a spot on his show.

    When it all comes down to really can't take on difficult issues unless you have adversity.

    I'm not saying I condone hate crimes, or even people who hate

    Everyone assumes, some people only believe or say certain things out of cowardice

    However, I think differently. The truth is people won't talk about what they believe or discuss it for good reason.

    Therefore, most things are solved in secrecy or behind closed doors

    In all the time, I've had discussion with people, I have never seen anyone change their mind on what they believe.

    Therefore, the word tolerance comes to mind. Well certainly, resolving things peacefully is the most admirable way.

    For me, I mostly focus on this. I have this crazy idea that people can talk things through with all the difficulty and adversity, and if everyone truly tries to see their own flaws and reach an understanding, then you create something much greater than ever existed before.

    However, mankind has shown throughout history, this is not possible. That is why we will always have wars and suffering.

    Is is really the intellectuals that people listen to..or is it simply force and power

    I've encountered many who totally disagree with me, and I don't care about that..what i care about and value is that they are telling me what they believe and willing to discuss there

    What I am saying is, to honestly work things out in todays age, you need the sorta radical side of conversations and adversity

    Its not for everyone I guess. I don't think this site will ever be able to get that rough.

    maybe a good thing..ST couldnt handle it either

  11. The following is a link to an article in todays NY Times. Makes some interesting points on both sides of our "time out" situation.

  12. So I guess I am naive ex-pat. Or maybe I just put my trust in the paper because I thought I could. Bad girl....I never once posted anything I was ashamed of. I have, however, been called names because people didn't understand my name. Yes, I used my yahoo name which was also part of my email. I had nothing to hide. But with all the spewing and then finding out they put personal info out there, I did get scared. So you can call me naive. Never can accuse me of spewing garbage though. Be blessed.

  13. As a regular who posted on the ST website to speak my mind on an issue, I miss the ability to openly debate. Viewpoints are very different and in the discussions, although sometimes they'd go haywire, more information would be posted that would give extra light to the original topic. I don't believe that to have been a bad thing.
    The concern the ST has in believing San Angelo is viewed as idiots or whatever because we are free-thinking, outspoken Americans...I've got news for them, WE ARE! Freedom of speech is something we do take for granted...for good reason.
    I miss my "friends," Rightview, Pearls, and even the out there gousa and buzzard (the Phoenix.) We usually never saw eye to eye but had a good time making each other threats, no terrible misgivings...just making others actually SEE a different side, whether they agreed or not.
    The ST should be ashamed for THEIR behavior. I prefer my anonymity for professional reasons. They take it away then I'm outta there for good.

  14. I too miss a good old rousting,it was pretty much understood that we would rib each other.. but when it came to the events that outed pearls that made me very angry. Me and pearls and gousa use to round and round.. but I respected them and KNEW we were all just socializing with sarcasam and adding a little bit of humor to asubject.. even rightview and the phionex knew we were all enjoying being a little over the edge. I was banned twice because of provoking people and not backing down. I find it funny that 1 letter changed a entire blog page( exspecially when the letter was from a x-from Massachusetts) yeah right.. miss you all puckMSD

  15. FYI - I tried to log back in to the site using my old name, "PearlsBeforeSwine" to no avail.

    I guess, since I was outed and then threatened, I have been blocked by the Standard Times. Shame on me. Those folks at the Standard Times will teach me a lesson for believing their guarantee of anonymity!

    But I wanted all of my friends (both those I agree with and those I fight with) to know - I'm back!

    I've got so many accounts on its crazy!

    I've made up some really funny blog names (and "owner" names behind them) for our new “no anonymous posts policy.” Yeah right!

    Maybe I can switch identities and personalities at the same time! Should be fun!

    I look forward to blogging with you all again!