In 2012 Greg Reibman and Sean Roche decided to start a Newton blog to discuss all things Newton. Over the last seven years, it has steadily grown in readership, and its place in the community has steadily grown in large part due to the withering of the Newton Tab.
In 2019 it has become one of the few places where the issues of the day can be discussed by all Newton citizens on a day-to-day basis. While we all believe that’s an important resource for the community, it is most definitely not a journalism enterprise. Despite that, in fact it does serve as one of the few places people can learn about various things happening in the city.
The two most common complaints about Village 14 is that it is slanted or biased and also the comments can be nasty or unpleasant. We’ll get to that in a minute but let me describe what Village 14 actually is and how it works.
Over the last seven years Greg and Sean have steadily invited various members of the community to become contributors and post items. All of these contributors are just regular folks with their own lives, families, etc. There is no paid staff. Nobody’s job is Village14. Once you are a contributor you have the ability to post anything you want. You can wake up in the morning and post “I was just thinking …” etc. There is no editorial process. There is no committee involved.
At the moment we have a large collection of contributors – Andy Levin, Amy Sangiolo, Greg Reibman, Allison Sharma, Bruce Henderson, Bob Jampol, Bob Burke, Bryan Barash***, Chuck Tanowitz, Adam Peller, Chris Steele, Doug Haslan, Groot Gregory, Gail Spector, Jerry Reilly, Julia Malakie***, Keith Jacobsen, Marti Bown, Mike Halle, Nathan Phillips, Paul Levy, Sean Roche, Sue Flicop, Sallee Lipschutz, Ted Hess Mahan. *** means that they are temporarily disqualified because they are currently running for office.
Due to circumstances of peoples lives, their proclivities, their interests, and infinite other details, some folks rarely add posts, others post a steady stream of new posts. All are equally able to post as often as they want. Over the years we’ve attempted to bring in a variety of voices and viewpoints.
The way it tends to work is that we have a substantial number of contributors that only rarely post, but when they do it’s usually a great and unique contribution (e.g.Bob Burke). We have a smaller set of people that are ‘bursty’. They may disappear for a while and then suddenly post a whole series of posts. I’m a bit in that category but no one’s more in that category than Sean Roche. Our most recent new contributor has been Paul Levy who has been a great shot in the arm – posting on a variety of topics and getting all sorts of conversations started. Keeping the whole thing moving is Greg Reibman. 365 days a year, if no one else is posting Greg always come up with something to keep the whole thing moving.
The Problem: Slanted and Biased – By their nature, by design, individual Village14 blog posts will tend to be slanted and biased. Remember, this isn’t news reporting or journalism. It’s one individual writing what’s on their mind with the information they happen to have on whatever interest them at the moment. Where the loudest cries about “bias” tend to come is when one of bloggers keeps posting on one topic (e.g. Sean on housing, lately) while the rest of us aren’t posting anything. At those times that one voice appears to be the voice of Village 14. The primary answer, is more posts from more distinct and different perspectives, the secondary answer is for each of us to refrain from re-packaging very similar content into multiple posts.
We already have a large collection (25) of individual bloggers that represent a wide swath of policy and politics in the city. If they all contributed equally we’d have no problem with perceived bias. Since this is a voluntary undertaking that will never happen though. The majority of contributors will always be occasional contributors.
Solution #: Guest Columns and New Bloggers – we’re going to try an experiment. I’m making an open call to all of you to become a blogger and write a post on any topic you’d like. Here’s how it will work. If you’re interested, send me an email ([email protected]) and I’ll send you some simple guidelines. Write the post, send it to me via email. I may or may not give you feedback, then I’ll post it. If I feel the post in anyway flagrantly violates our rules it will be totally at my discretion to not run it, but I’ll let you know why and give you an opportunity to change it if necessary. Note, I have a family, a job, and a life so at the moment this will be a temporary experiment to see if this can be done without becoming a big time sink for me personally.
My guess is that some of you will want to write a post(s) on a single topic that you care passionately about and feel your view is under-represented, my hope though is that some of you find that you enjoy writing these and begin contributing on a variety of topics. For me, the ideal Village14 is not just an on-going food fight about the one big issue of today, but rather a constant stream of posts on different topics – some serious, some whimsical, some personal observations, some new-sy and covering all aspects of things going on in Newton – politics, events, arts, sports, opinion, etc. If you find yourself contributing Guest posts regularly and would like to do more, let us know and we can consider making you one of the regular bloggers that has the keys to the machine and can post whenever you like.
Solution #2 – Candidate Columns – We’ll also be inviting all candidates running for office in the upcoming election to submit a Candidate Guest Column. We plan to post these in a steady stream from now through the election.
Problem: Nasty and unpleasant – Lots of people stay away from Village14 because they say that they find the tone of much of it very “unpleasant” , “cruel”, “vicious” i.e. a “cesspool”. Many more folks read Village14 regularly but never comment in fear of being caught in unpleasant cross-fire. I think some of this criticism is overblown since the majority of comments on V14 are quite benign. When tempers do rise on hot button issues the comments can occasionally get quite nasty. That’s a much harder problem with no simple answers because it involves everyone who comments here. We do occasionally pull specific comments if we feel they cross a line. That process of policing comments can never solve the more general issue of incivility though
Solution: Self-policing, self-restraing and occasional enforcement of ‘the rules’ – Most of the answers for this come from y’all. Yes, we have ‘rules’ but perhaps more important are the “guidelines’. Please read them and try to abide by them. The gist of all of this is to try to avoid the most common pitfall of on-line discourse – de-personalization.
Imagine a friend invited you to their house for a curious kind of event. They were inviting a dozen people to their living room, a few of who you knew, and the rest you don’t. Everyone was invited to talk about the issues of the day, some of which can be quite contentious. Inevitably someone will say something with which you disagree, perhaps strenuously disagree. In that context, you’d voice your disagreement but work very hard not to insult the person who expressed it. (If not, you’re not coming to my house ;-). That’s what we should all be aiming for on Village 14.
A great rule of thumb that someone quoted me from a Greer Tan Swiston hosted on-line neighborhood group was “don’t use the word ‘you'” in a comment. When writing a comment, as soon as those three letters appear on your screen – stop!, take a deep breath and try to rephrase whatever you’re writing in a less personal way. Focus on what was said, rather than the person who said it.
Your ideas – What are your ideas of other ways that Village14 could be improved working within the meager resources that we have? Discuss.