The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 8, 2012

Eric Knopsnyder | Online, newspaper writers: A study of contrast

Eric Knopsnyder

— Now that the Fourth of July is over, we can go back to remembering all of the things that divide us.

Like most of the mundane tasks of our lives, there is no need to set aside time to celebrate this. We do it on a daily basis.

We’re Red States and Blue States. Obamacare backers and bashers. Conservatives and liberals – oh wait, talk radio has turned liberal into a bad word. Better make that conservatives and “progressives.”

We’re smokers and non-smokers. We’ve already condemned Joe Paterno’s legacy or are still fighting to save it.

And, in the journalism world, we either get our news through the old print product or online.

Sure, that last gap is more easily bridged than the others.

There are people who still love to read a morning newspaper and then check websites throughout the day for updated reports. But having served as the Internet editor before taking over as editor of The Tribune-Democrat last month, I’m amazed at how many people stick to one medium or the other.

And, judging by our regular contributors to the Readers’ Forum, they are separated by more than just the method by which they receive news.

The views expressed in the Readers’ Forum, more often than not, extend well beyond conservatism into a shade that would make Rush Limbaugh blush. Rants against President Obama appear almost daily.

Letters mourning the loss of a God-fearing populace pour into the newsroom. And anti-homosexual themes – some too vitriolic for publication – are common.

That can give the impression that much of the region shares those sentiments.

But that’s just one side of the argument.

Check out the responses at www.tribdem.com and you’ll see a much different Johnstown. It’s a far more liberal – sorry, progressive - Johns-town. One that would never be accused of clinging to its guns and religion, to dredge up an old stereotype. It’s quick to defend a national health care system, stand up to Bible thumpers and fight for the rights of anyone it feels is being discriminated against, whether it’s because of race, gender or sexual orientation.

The majority of the political comments at tribdem.com are more MSNBC than Fox News, more Huffington Post than Drudge Report, and, well, more digital than newsprint.

The amazing part is that for all of the intelligent readers that we have, of both the paper and online versions, they so rarely seem to cross paths.

The newspaper readers continue to espouse their (more often than not right-wing) beliefs in the Readers’ Forum.

No problem there – that’s the point of the forum, to allow individuals to express their views on a variety of topics.

And the politically engaged (more often than not left-leaning) on tribdem.com are quick to attack every argument with which they disagree. Again, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s why we enable online comments.

But it seems as though those two worlds almost never collide. It’s very rare to see one of the letter writers from the Readers’ Forum respond to an online rebuttal. And, judging by the content of and the names attached to online opinions, it seems like the website commentators almost never feel the need to pen (or type) an original letter to the Readers’ Forum, instead opting only to disparage those who do.

It’s a frustrating disconnect, perhaps more so than the political one. Rather than holding a political discourse, which can be quite healthy, we’re left with two sides content to simply talk amongst themselves. In what is both an apropos and ill-fitting analogy – depending on the political view – they’re each preaching to the choir.

Perhaps that’s just where American society is today.

Rather than try to resolve our differences, it’s easier to complain to someone who will nod knowingly.



Eric Knopsnyder is editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.

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