Provoking on purpose : our editorial policies up for discussion

This week, we’re getting ready to put up a guest post we received via email. It’s sharp, funny, thoughtful, and (in my opinion) a great read. But it has also forced me to consider — make that, learn — our editorial policies. Even I had forgotten what those policies actually were (Deb was the one who was organized enough to get them written and posted). Here they are, in part (in reference to comments, but I am applying them to posts as well):

We welcome your comments. Be advised, however, that it is our policy to delete the following:

• Comments that are abusive, off-topic, or excessively foul in language
• Comments celebrating the death or illness of another person
• Comments containing racist, sexist, homophobic, or ethnic slurs
• Comments posted elsewhere on the site (thread spam)
• Comments posted with the intent of provoking others

That last one is the tricky one. Intent to provoke. It’s a bit of a catch-all. My thesaurus says that “provoke” means to needle, goad, whip up. Well, doing those things in the service of new ideas sounds valuable. Doing all that in order to injure the reputation of another writer, or to harrass him/her for just teasing’s sake, doesn’t sound valuable.

But it’s a hard call, isn’t it? A blogpost or essay that uses goading or teasing in a humorous or ironic vein, or as part of an argument that heads into truly productive literary territory, shouldn’t be censored, should it?

And what about the flat-out teasing of more famous, distant personalities? I’ve thrown a few stones at Sarah Palin, and even at the writer Alice Hoffman, just to mention the most recent post that comes to mind.

Let me share my current fuzzy thinking — and realize, this is Andromeda talking here, not Deb.

Here is how my own inadequately-tuned internal censor has been working on these issues.

#1) I tend to be less protective of famous people, celebrities, and national figures than local writers. The closer we get to home, the more careful I try to get (though surely, I stumble at times). The more prominent a person becomes — and this does include Alaskans — the more criticism (including constructive criticism) I believe they should be able to handle.

#2) I think the most stringent rules should apply with comments, for example, to discourage people from making quick, thoughtless jabs. (And they do. We’ve deleted some for you, including ones posted at around 2 or 3 in the morning, which just goes to show when people’s inhibitions are at their lowest.) I get more flexible with guest posts, because the writer usually has taken time and care to explain himself/herself, and voice becomes part of the message or opinion or story. A provocative voice can be good. But here is the hardest part — where I see literary value, I tolerate prickliness. And that, of course, is a personal judgment call. In other words, make me laugh or help me learn, and I may not mind that you finger-pointed or made some disparaging remarks. But others — even my own fellow blogger Deb — may disagree. You, the reader, may disagree, and I don’t mind hearing from you about that.

If this blogging business were a full-time job, I’d have time to develop more rock-solid guidelines. But friends, you all know this : Deb and I do this thing on our own dime, ten minutes here or an hour there. We’re writers, not op-ed page staff or web innovators. As Deb has said before, we’re more like party hosts than editors. We invite others to the party, pass around the drinks, clean up the spill here and there, and only occasionally wonder if we should take away someone’s car keys, so that he doesn’t hurt himself or others. (Keep in mind that some guest-posters may not realize that what they blog can circulate on the internet for a loooong time.)

Please keep that in mind if you see me struggling to decide how or whether to edit a guest-post, second-guessing my own previous posts or comments, and so on. I am bound to be inconsistent, sometimes rushed, and never, ever particularly wise about all this. This blog is a place for community, not a hard-hitting newspaper or even a fully staffed literary journal. What it may lack in gravitas it makes up for in flexibility and inclusivity (I hope). Which doesn’t mean we don’t want thoughtful, hard-hitting pieces — we do! But we will need your help and patience at every step of the way — from editing blog-posts, to unruffling ruffled feathers (when required), to rethinking future policies.

2 thoughts on “Provoking on purpose : our editorial policies up for discussion”

  1. Me, too, Andromeda – on all that you said. Our readers might be interested to know that our editorial policy is adapted from the Huffington Post, a great forum for vigorous debate. We'd like our blog to be known that way, too, although we have another openly-stated agenda – to build a sense of community among Alaskan writers and their readers. So while I may find Mary Whosit's lengthy treatment of Alaskan anarchists tedious, trashy, and not worth a nickel of its $34.95 cover price, you won't find me saying that here if I consider Mary part of our extended community. I'd even hold that umbrella over Sarah Palin's pretty head if she ever decides to write her own book, sans ghostwriter.

    It's my policy to give every guest post a quick read and a light edit as needed. My reasons are simple: I believe in the value of editing, and I'd hate for one of our guest posters, who also work for free, to be embarrassed by a post with inadvertant errors and a shelflife just this side of forever. Yes, we can go back and edit after the fact at an author's request, but frankly that takes time, a precious commodity for all. Also, Andromeda and I end up ultimately associated with whatever's posted here. I feel we have a responsibility to both our readers and ourselves.

    Yes, we're a forum, but we're also a publication and a community, and as such we set standards. First Amendment rights are subject to the situation. Just as you can't get away with shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater, you won't get away with firing expletives at fellow writer on 49 writers.

    That's how I see it, anyhow. We're open, as always, to your comments.

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