My concern over the reader comments on the Tribune’s website is growing. The tone of some comments is now affecting my ability to do my job documenting the people of Utah. It’s not hard to find examples of the heated arguments an insulting comments on our site. I found all of the examples here in a matter of seconds. Just imagine if I had actually put effort into finding the worst ones.
The past few weeks have been full of tragic stories. A father accidentally kills his son by burying him with a bulldozer. An eight-year-old dies in a motocross race at one in the morning. A man is lost in Utah Lake after his boat capsizes; he wasn’t wearing a life jacket. A man accused of selling native artifacts kills himself. A five-year-old girl dies in an accidental shooting.
Every death should prompt an evaluation by society. Why is an eight-year-old racing at 1am? Why wasn’t the guy wearing a life jacket? Why wasn’t the gun locked up? These are valid questions to be asked.
But these stories on our website have become magnets for people who are ready and willing to judge the victims and their families before the bodies are even cold.
What should be serious thought quite often descends into anonymous commenters saying things like, “Once again stupid kid for not knowing better.”
I covered the funeral for James Redd, the Blanding physician who killed himself after federal prosecutors charged him with selling native artifacts. It was a tense story and a photographer who had been on the scene a few days earlier told me he’d almost been physically assaulted. I was expecting the worst.
I kept my distance as much as possible, giving the family room to grieve while still telling the story. But in the cemetery at the end some family and friends walked by. All were cordial. One woman told me that as hard as the events and media coverage had been on the family, it was the reader comments on the Tribune’s website that had shocked and hurt them the most. She told me she had to stop looking and couldn’t sleep after reading them.
I’m left wondering how long it will be before families start shutting us out. Not because of the quality and objectivity of our coverage, but because of the reader comments on our stories.
It’s not that your opinions and questions aren’t valid. I just wish we had a way to keep the conversation civil.