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Why Tipsline matters

Don Rogers

Love them. Hate them. Face it, you read them. Even if you say you don’t.How else did you know of this summer’s War of the Road between cyclists and dumber-than-a-doorpost motorists? You couldn’t keep yourself from reading the Tipsline column, that’s how. Sure, you held your nose at the calls for this commentary forum, amazed at the stupid, petty things that callers pay attention to – roundabouts, immigration’s real and wildly imagined sins, dog poop in common areas, the real and wildly imagined sins of local politicians and others in power, occasional praise for this or that small act of kindness, journalism and grammar lessons for the paper, all manner of the various ventings about daily life here.The War of the Road flared enough this summer that we and our sister paper, The Vail Trail, applied legitimate journalism to the topic with news stories. I did get a kick out of the Trail trying – and failing – to disregard the Tipsline forum as the genesis for its coverage even as they quoted from it.Yes, the establishment is often offended at the idea of riff raff just calling in and speaking their silly, often mean little minds. And not leaving their names. Some of what they say isn’t even true! Some critics believe that the public conversation about the valley’s issues is coarsened by having a call-in forum in which it is the caller’s choice whether to leave his or her name.Some readers pretend not to know what an opinion section even is, and so Tipsline is indicted with editorials, columns and letters as “biased.” Well, duh. If you really are too dumb to understand that Commentary is an opinion section distinct from the news, you fully deserve all your angst. (I know, I know, don’t insult the readers.) There’s no such thing has having the wrong opinion, though. That’s a lesson we’d all do well to learn.Newspapers, and indeed all of journalism, are at a crossroads. Long used to lecturing down from some imagined perch to our audience, we’re learning the hard way they aren’t listening quite as intently as perhaps they once did.One of the lessons of the Internet, I believe, is interaction. The public wants to participate, to talk back. Tipsline and our new print feature, Wisdom from the Web, demonstrate this demand.Wisdom from the Web is a compilation of the comments readers leave at the end of stories, commentaries and other files that we run in print. This feature has taken off in short order.It’s clear to me that civic participation in the paper is more important than holding our noses at what “ordinary” folk have to say about what they think are the issues of the day. Even, gasp, if they don’t leave their names.The traditional letters to the editor section has been growing more robust over the years, too, which is a great sign. For this feature, we do require the author’s real name. So, if knowing the name of the opinion holder is a big deal for you, you have a forum that provides the accountability and satisfaction that comes with all that. We’re not taking that away.But for whatever reason, lots of readers are not comfortable giving their names. Our answer is to find a way for them to express their views, too. This country’s founding principles were formed in part from anonymously published (and mean!) opinions. What counts most is the idea, and the participation, not who expressed it. My opinions are always identifiable to me, and I’m fine with being criticized. I’m also wholly unconcerned that someone might snub me or tell me off in a social situation. But I – and you – should respect the fact that this happens sometimes.Another piece of criticism is this notion that we don’t edit Tipsline or Wisdom from the Web as we edit other commentary features. Well, that’s just not true. Tipsline has the most rejections of the features. We edit all the commentary for libel, legal privacy, language, rank racism and the rest. But our “bias,” if you will, is to get people’s opinions in the paper. Especially ones that disagree with ours. There’s no discussion without disagreement over prickly issues, after all.Besides, even the folks who profess to hate Tipsline read the … out of the feature. Tipsline, letters and now the Web comments are among the best read parts of the paper. However “mean” some of the comments are, there’s a good reason they are read, and often responded to in these forums.It’s part of that civic participation. Frankly, my view is there isn’t nearly enough of this participation in our little society.Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.com. This column, as in the case of all personal columns, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Vail Daily.Vail, Colorado


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