Starting this week, NewCanaanite.com is disabling comments on all articles related to the municipal election, and those likely to be misconstrued as such (referring here to coverage of public health, amazingly).
What we’re here for
This is a local news outlet and we view the comments threads hosted on New Canaanite—where for nearly four years, we’ve required full and verifiable names—as an important part of our local coverage that’s in line with our mission. Since launching the site in 2014, the two criteria we’ve applied in deciding what qualifies as news here are:
- It has to be local enough that a person would need to have a very strong tie to New Canaan to have any interest in reading it (from here, lives here, works here); and
- It would look out-of-place on a news site covering any other town.
We don’t cover New Canaan’s delegation to the state legislature because our representatives in the General Assembly also represent other towns. We don’t cover the weather, traffic on the Merritt, delays on Metro-North Railroad, multi-town agencies that encompass New Canaan or even locally based organizations whose work is so wide-ranging that they reach beyond town lines (until they come before the Planning & Zoning Commission).
What we don’t want
We never want readers to use our comments threads for their own ends, political or other. We do not want readers submitting comments specifically to re-surface posts in the center column of our site. We do not want our comment stream manipulated that way, mostly because it would steer conversation away from other articles that more readers are genuinely interested in discussing. Nor do we want our threads purposely hijacked by individuals or groups with political or other agendas. We often shut down threads when they descend into a small back-and-forth or deliberate series of scheduled comments involving just a handful of people whose interests and hyper-focus on specific issues—be they the library, school start times, mask requirements or retaining walls at housing developments—hold little interest for the wider community.
What we think
Our news coverage is meant to get useful, accurate information to readers. We try to provide context for what appointed and elected officials and political hopefuls say in public forums, and to quote them accurately. Most of this job is transcription. We don’t believe that anything useful or true can come from those who arrive at a comment thread with a goal of arguing or shoehorning in the type of set piece that is the hallmark of, say, community coffees moderated by local news outlets. We don’t think a true thing can be said of any one group of people. We think political party affiliations are arbitrary and do not, in themselves, provide any information about individual party members. We think people who stand by such assumptions are petulant, lazy and stupid. We think arriving at a discussion with the belief that you will not agree with anything the other person will say because of something so arbitrary as party affiliation costs everyone the opportunity t0 find common ground. We think that on the whole, New Canaan is smarter and better-informed than that. The change in comment threads we’re describing today is not designed to target any one political party—New Canaan clearly has agitators on each end of the spectrum who are seeking to steer electors with labels, falsehoods and agendas.
What we’ve seen
Comments posted to articles published in recent weeks covering the caucuses, local mask policies, Board of Education and candidates for the school board have turned quickly into sniping among readers talking at cross-purposes. When that happens, the threads detract from the issues that we believe it is our job to present fairly and with some depth and context. More to the point, the assertions that derail our comments threads often appear to be rooted in the falsehoods of party politicking. We understand that some candidates for office here are seen as trying to bring irrelevant national political talking points to New Canaan. To this we say two things. First, candidates for office have always brought their own concerns to local election campaigns. Because it may not be a universally or even widely shared concern doesn’t make it invalid for someone who is offering up their own time, energy and expertise to volunteer because they believe they have something to contribute. Second, if it’s true that such talking points have no relevance here, then they may be dismissed out of hand instead of granted a second life in our comment threads. We’re not interested in hosting contrived debates. (There’s other platforms for that.) For those unwilling or unable to debate civilly, we think that the best way to voice displeasure with an unwanted candidate is by casting a ballot.
What we’re doing
Though we’re disabling comments on this editorial and future election coverage, we will continue to post our articles to the New Canaanite Facebook page. We think that Facebook is already a free-for-all troll zone, and readers may share and discuss our coverage on their own pages and groups. To be consistent with all of this year’s candidates, we’ve also cleared out past comment threads on stories related to the election. Our hope and plan is to have them open during the 2023 local election season, though the trend we see goes in another, rather troubling direction. Four years ago, we saw comments threads turn more civil and inclusive just by instituting a requirement that all readers use full and verifiable names. This summer, even with that requirement in place, we’ve been compelled to take this step.
In closing, we would like to thank those who give of their time to volunteer on behalf of the community, and we wish the best for those seeking elected office this year.