Signing opinions improves their quality

David Stevens

Two readers contacted the Clovis News Journal this week to suggest a new feature. Both men recommended we borrow an idea from the Las Cruces newspaper, which allows readers to offer anonymous commentary on just about any subject.
The “Sound Off” feature is not unique to the Las Cruces paper. Several papers in our region provide similar forums.
Here’s how it works:
Readers get excited about something and fire off a note.
“I think John Bumblehead has tuna fish for brains and should be removed from office,” one might write. Or, “The Hoggly Woggly grocery store should sell sugar-free chocolate cake that tastes good. Also, the lines are too long.” Or, “My favorite teacher is Mrs. Wisenheimer. She deserves a raise … and Fridays off.”
The paper then publishes the more interesting notes in a regular feature. There is no way to determine if the authors might be political opponents of John Bumblehead, proprietors of competing grocery stores or Mrs. Wisenheimer’s husband. The idea is to fan community discussion.
I understand the concept and I love to read “Sound Off” and similar features in other papers when I find them.
But I’m not inclined to offer the option in the Clovis News Journal.
Here’s why: I think readers should have the courage of their convictions and sign their names to their opinions.
I want readers to express their views through our newspaper pages, and we offer several avenues for such — Letters to the Editor, guest columns, Project: Reader Reaction. But all opinions must be signed by their authors.
Having grown up in Muleshoe (population 5,000) and written newspaper stories about small towns for more than 20 years, I am familiar with the argument that small-town residents will not express their true opinions in public for fear of retaliation.
And I know that’s true in many cases.
But it doesn’t change my opinion that critics should sign their work.
Yes, publicly criticizing an individual or an idea can lead to retaliation from those who disagree.
I have been called a prostitute and the anti-Christ in letters to the editor by those who’ve disagreed with my opinions. (I’m not either of those things, in case you were wondering.)
Several folks have threatened to harm me physically for expressing my opinions, including one Amarillo race-car promoter who said he was going to beat me up in front of 1,000 fans. Fortunately, my smart mouth also works in reverse and I was able to chat my way out of the beating.
And I could not begin to count the number of times people have threatened to get my job as a result of something I’ve written by complaining to my boss. Sometimes, my bosses end up complaining about me to the unhappy readers.
It’s easy to express your opinions; it’s no fun at all when your targets start shooting back.
But I think we’re all better served when we think a little before stating an opinion for public consumption. Requiring names is one way to accomplish that goal.

From the Editor’s Desk is a weekly memo to CNJ readers. David Stevens can be reached at 763-6991, extension 310, or by e-mail:
david_stevens@link.freedom.com