Northfield News launches ‘Team Watchdog’

Sam Gett
In last week’s paper, Northfield News Publisher and Editor Sam Gett’s announced a volunteer citizen-journalist panel called Team Watchdog in a column titled: Wanna be a watchdog? Join us.

The philosophy behind Team Watchdog is simple. Community members with specific expertise partner with newspaper reporters to help us fulfill our First Amendment mission. We’re looking for people who are interested in exposing waste and corruption or just want to be part of finding better solutions. All are encouraged to apply, but experience in accounting, law and public service is especially helpful.

Our RepJ colleague Len Witt blogged about the Fort Meyers, Florida launch of a project by the same name about a year ago: Team Watchdog: Civic Journalism in Florida. Also see this Gannett story: Fort Myers’ Team Watchdog taps community expertise.

I’m delighted to see the paper engaging the citizenry more in its reporting. I’ve heard from others that they’ve had a ‘citizen advisory board’ for a while so maybe this is an evolutionary step. I don’t have any details on it but maybe our LoGroNo readers can help enlighten me? Or maybe Managing Editor Jaci Smith will post to her blog about it.


  1. Anne Bretts said:

    I’m on the citizen advisory board, and it’s quite an interesting – and diverse – group. We have some spirited conversations, as you can imagine.
    Sam and Jaci are really interested in getting feedback and ideas, and they’re working hard to improve the paper and online version of it. I think the Team Watchdog will be a great addition to their efforts.

    March 25, 2008
  2. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: Usually a subject like this would draw some immediate comment, yet this has not.

    In your expert citizen-journalist opinion (pardon me if there are others who feel they are expert and unacknowledged), why is it that there has been no interest in commenting for the last couple days?

    March 27, 2008
  3. VEEEEK-TOR, maybe some of us are out frying fish.

    A while ago, MPR was going around trying, they stated, to cultivate a wider range of sources, encouraging regular folks to contact them, etc., yet I don’t see that much came of it. The Sioux Falls Argus-Leader is doing a lot of outreach lately trying to get folks involved. Community radio was and is citizen-journalism, where all sorts of folks just show up and learn radio — it’s fun to stick a mic in peoples faces and easy to get excited about local events and politics when you know your work will be on the radio. But the “wanna be a Watchdog” concept, well, as a professional watchdog (did you see the STrib today about the impending crash and burn of the Kandiyohi Midtown Eco-Burner? YESSSS!), it’s our obligation for each of us to be Watchdogs, part of “citizenship,” of the planet, that is… the newspaper is probably trying to catch up with … with… LoGroNo?

    March 27, 2008
  4. kiffi summa said:

    I thought the NFNews has a watchdog; his name is Rudolph the Red……….

    March 27, 2008
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Anne, who else is on the Nfld News citizen advisory board? I hunted around their website and searched their database but couldn’t find anything.

    March 27, 2008
  6. Anne Bretts said:

    There are about a dozen of us, with wildly differing viewpoints, so the conversations are very interesting. Sam and Jaci put up some sample issues and we discuss everything from story content to page design and ideas for future stories. They’ve asked for feedback on everything from policies on campaign letters to the differences between identifying authors of letters to the editor and allowing screen names or anonymous identities for online comments.
    It’s a great experience.
    I’ve always thought it would be good for LoGroNo, and the News to do a series of occasional panel discussions that would share and compare your different policies and philosophies and allow feedback from readers.

    March 28, 2008
  7. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: Maybe you could get some of the News’s citizen advisory team to discuss, here, the problem of anonymous comments.

    Obviously some of the anonymous comments on the NFNews website, that have referred back to LG comments, were posted there (NFNews) because you do not allow anonymous comments, and the person who will only comment anonymously must find an accepting public place to do so.

    That would certainly be an interesting discussion given your upcoming citizen journalism project.

    March 29, 2008
  8. I’d like to comment on everything but I don’t. Having an opinion is very much discouraged in this town in subtle and not so subtle ways. People are very timid about putting their ideas down in print where they will live forever, not only about the immediate opposition that is bound to come, but also the long term, especially if you don’t tote the party line.

    So, having said that, and not being afraid to loose friends, cuz I don’t have any and I have already been shunned by several different groups, I’ll put my opinion down about handicap parking downtown. There is not enough.
    There are so many people who are now in need of some extra help to get
    around, but I am sure pass up businesses downtown if they have to walk a
    block or more to get in somewhere. I am sure the city has met the mandatory number of spaces, (or maybe not) but when I look around I
    see a space at one end of one side of the busiest block in downtown and
    wonder what kind of diversity loving gentle society does that sort of

    March 30, 2008
  9. Paul Fried said:

    Regarding the citizen advisory board, the News ran an editorial by Sam many months ago, inviting volunteers. I don’t think they had a huge expression of interest. Sam tried to find a meeting time that worked for all.

    My sense of things is that it was a pretty healthy, open process. This was not Sam inviting specific people to be in the group, but an open invitation to all interested.

    I had suggested the idea of forming such a board group to the previous editor and publisher because of some of the issues related to elections and public perception of the political endoresement process. I credit Sam for inviting people to be involved in that way (I don’t think the previous management had the constitution for it).

    Regarding who is on the citizen panel, the volunteers who are currently on it never volunteered to have their names publicized (as you’d expect of city council people), but there are businesspeople, journalists or former journalists, a teacher, a farmer, retired people, etc. (a cross-section of the community in some ways).

    We are not a formal group; there are no minutes, and I cringe at the idea of the group being quoted or cited on the editorial pages because, even if we’re something like a cross-section, we’re a very small one, and not reprenative in any strict sense.

    As the meetings have gone so far, it has been a healthy give-and-take: Sam and Jackie sometimes solicit feedback regarding front pages and layout issues. There is also discussion of editorial decisions (whether certain stories should be covered, how they were covered, if coverage seemed fair, etc.). There’s an agenda, but we often stray.

    Sam and Jackie get marketing feedback, and citizens get to voice their editorial-decision concerns. I don’t know if the group actually makes a difference, or if it acts more as a pressure-valve (perhaps a little of both), but it seems worth the effort. Sam and Jackie seem more aware of the importance of community feedback in some ways (with their evolving web site, too), so in general, I think it’s a good change.

    March 30, 2008
  10. Anne Bretts said:

    I agree with Paul that it wouldn’t be appropriate to share the names or comments of the group, but feel free to have a discussion here about anonymous comments.
    I comment on a few news sites and read many more. I’m not bothered at all by the nearly universal use of anonymous comments or screen names for comments. As for the News, I understand having a traditional standard for the letters to the editor and more updated approach online.
    As for anonymous comments, there is so much venom in this town that I know many people who are too afraid to comment, even though they would love to do so.
    I’m thrilled to have Rudolph the Red reminding our various self-appointed emperors and other royalty that they have no clothes. The people who need his name are people who want control, and are mightily perturbed that someone dare to be doing something over which they have no control.
    Words are harmless, so people should lighten up and take them for what they are. If you don’t like them, ignore them.

    Long live Rudolph.

    March 30, 2008
  11. kiffi summa said:

    I must disagree with the idea of anonymous comments which are attached to articles that have no commonality of content. Words ARE just words, but when words become public threats of physical harm that is not acceptable.

    Libel is malicious, damaging, and intentionally so, and only cowards do it anonymously. Libel is dealt with by law; cowards evade the law with anonymity.

    Ideas should be able to be defended with fact, rather than lies perpetuated by anonymity.

    March 30, 2008
  12. Martha Cashman said:

    Hear, hear, Anne. Long live Rudolph.

    March 31, 2008
  13. kiffi summa said:

    Martha: this is not like you to be so un-analytical.
    Do you recall your reaction to the anonymous act that left garbage on your front lawn on last Dec. 23rd? (date).
    You expressed deep feelings of anger, sadness, violation, trepidation, etc.

    So how can you support false accusations with specific names, always stated as fact, physical threats to a persons well-being, libelous statements made over and over on a public website (and the definition of libel is important here), and these comments attached to news articles in which their is no relevant subject matter?

    I know you to be a much more thoughtful person, than your endorsement of Rudolph would indicate. This is beyond political POV.

    March 31, 2008
  14. Martha Cashman said:


    You infer that you have a deeper knowledge of me than you actually do. And, quite frankly you have no real knowledge of my political POV. Others have said it before on this site, anonymity is sometimes chosen because of threats to one’s personal property and self (e.g. what happened to me in December).

    Regarding libel, I do not see it. Rudolph is merely reporting and repeating the facts that have been put out there by the Northfield News, the Everret Report, individual correspondence and the individual actions of elected officials.

    What is troubling to me is how you and Victor could be so un-analytical. The Summa’s I knew would have decried the behavior exhibited by the Mayor over the past year.

    Nonetheless, your response to my minor response to what Anne Bretts had to say supports why many either choose to say nothing or, say it behind the veil of anonymity.


    April 1, 2008
  15. Regarding Paul’s comment #12, if people cannot find a common time for a large groups of people to gather and meet, why not find two times that people could gather in two smaller groups and meet…perhaps for half the time for each meeting. This is the real nuts and bolts of interactive exchanges…flex time…sharing jobs…and the utilization of holographic techniques (so I’m a little ahead of the game here, but it’s coming soon to a neighborhood near you!)

    Regarding anonymous comments, I think Griff had a good idea, (no, really, I do) when he allowed anonymous comments when he had actually spoken with the commenter. If at least one person knows who the anonymous person is, then, they have to stick to legal and moral guidelines. Of course, I don’t think you can still call the person anonymous, but it’s just as good.

    That’s a compromise and a good one at that.

    April 1, 2008
  16. Martha Cashman said:


    Your suggestion is a good one. I guess that is why your parents named you ‘Bright’!


    April 1, 2008
  17. Aw, shucks, Martha, Thanks! I’m just a monkey with a typewriter, every once in a while a good one is bound to get out!

    It was actually my Grandfather who gave me the name of Bright Star when I was born, he was there and named me for my eyes which were then blue against what was then a red face and raven black hair that stuck straight up
    in the air.

    Martha is a good name, all the ones I know are rich, and then you have that great last name to go with it. You go girl!

    April 1, 2008
  18. Anne Bretts said:

    Bright, I love you, but I don’t want ‘permission’ to be anonymous. We’re adults — or at least old enough to type. There are many options for safe, monitored, censored, civil and claustrophobic discussion.
    The paper can enforce legal and moral guidelines on anonymous comments…it’s called a delete key. To avoid accidentally shocking the community, there can be a delay in posting serving the same purpose as the 7-second delay on live radio talk shows. Easy as that, all obscenities and libelous comments can be kept off the page.
    In fact, this whole issue is related to the long tradition of talk shows taking anonymous comments. We don’t think twice about all the venerable public radio stations that have survived using all anonymous comments (Bob from Minnetonka hardly qualifies as identification). To many of us who live and work online, this is a whole different world than print commentary, more immediate and more related to radio and video.
    Let go of the control issues and have a little fun. Consider the ideas without knowing the personal agendas behind them (they’re usually painfully obvious anyway.)
    It’s good for the spirit.

    April 1, 2008
  19. kiffi summa said:

    Martha: I must have been very obtuse, because you missed my point completely. I asked you to recall how an anonymous act affected you.

    Regardless of anyone’s political POV, your, mine, Joe Blow’s , or Rudolph’s….. how is it acceptable to make personal comments that are libelous, make threatening phone calls to a person’s home, state that one is in control of another person’s physical well being, etc etc, all under the cover of anonymity…….. how is that acceptable?

    Why not instead argue for the belief one holds, and support that argument with fact, instead of personal accusations attached to a newspaper story with no content connection?

    And then why has the newspaper been pulling all these irrelevantly “Connected” comments?

    This has nothing to do with any legitimate political view; this has to do with the presumed power gained by anonymous, cowardly acts.

    Again, did you support the person who supposedly threw garbage on your lawn?

    April 1, 2008
  20. Hi, Anne. Love you, too. Hug, hug. I guess I am coming from the point of view that if you want to be anonymous in a town where you know the people you dislike or whatever, and they know you, you should have to earn the right to be anonymous…there should be accountability for serious opposition, and that goes for both sides, everyone included.

    When your Bob from Minnitonka calls, no one knows him personally and he doesn’t know who is listening either. It’s fair in that.

    As for obscenities and libel, I think the seven second delay tactic is great,
    but is also a form of control.

    I don’t mind a little control happening as I have lived too many years watching the lunatics run the asylum. Present company excluded, including me. Yeah!

    Studies show that when people feel unsafe in a city, the city doesn’t thrive, no one invests in it, the people aren’t happy and the whole place turns into Detroit. I think that holds true for online cities, too.

    April 1, 2008
  21. Paul Fried said:

    A few of us did raise the issue of anonymous comments at the last reader meeting, and there were some, like Anne, who were in favor of the “new ethics” of anonymity, and some who were in favor of something more like accountability.

    There is a middle ground, where some web sites and discussion forums require that individuals register with actual names, but that they can have a user-name appear instead of their real name. This requires more time, perhaps manpower, the right software, and people can still circumvent it, but I think it’s better than nothing.

    So while Anne’s voice in favor of that option was certainly one of the many voices at the meeting, I can remember at least two of us who were clearly against it.

    There was at least one other web-based group with an email list in town whose policy was to have people use their own names, and a person who joined the group and posted comments, and did not respond to emails, seemed more interested in a kind of information vandalism than in real exchange.

    Certainly in some contexts, you would only stimulate certain discussions (for TIME magazine’s web site, in response to an article on terrorism, or abortion, or…) if you could offer anonymity. But there’s a dark side to anonymity; do you want to pay that price so that you can stimulate certain discussions that might not otherwise happen? Maybe. Maybe not.

    In that sense, as a metaphor for anonymous comments, maybe some graffiti is art, and some is just vandalism. If you live in a dictatorship, maybe you should expect certain acts of vandalism as poltical protest if free speech is severely restricted. But sometimes the vandals are the thugs and hirelings of the emperors-who-have-no-clothes. They intimidate and supress free speech. It’s a fact.

    The hard thing about Rudolph the Red is that he probably works for the city, perhaps in something related to computers or engineering, and maybe his anonymity covers up a conflict of interest we might object to if we knew who he was (I can hear Tracy, or Britt, or David L., volunteering, or asking for, full disclosure of possible conflict of interest).

    I grew up in St. Paul and spent a considerable amount of time in Mpls. I’ve been to lots of big cities, and I can say: Anonymity is very over-rated.

    Unless you’re speeding, and you pass a highway patrol going in the other direction, and you make a few quick turns down side-streets in the next town, and they lose your trail. Then I s’pose it comes in handy.

    Think of how far we’ve come from the freedom of speech the founding fathers envisioned: They weren’t thinking of anonymous posts and graffiti. They were thinking that people have the right to say what’s on their mind, and own it, and not be imprisoned, or vandalized, etc.

    Some of the anonymous comment stuff is just too Rovian for me.

    Apologies: We went from watchdogs, to reader panel (both of these at Griff’s prompting), to anonymous posts, and unless we make a link back, we’re in thread drift….

    Is Rudolph the Red a legitimate citizen watchdog, or perhaps an insider-thug with a whose anonymity hides a conflict of interest, or some of each? (There’s a lame attempt to swing things back from thread-drift). We may never know for sure, as long as he’s anonymous. Ethical journalists should know their sources, even if those sources ask not to have their identities revealed. Some web-based discussions don’t have that layer of acountability, so you open things to manipulation by vested interests.

    April 2, 2008
  22. Anne Bretts said:

    Wow, so many control issues in such a small town over problems that just might happen someday. I guess I don’t fear the people I know, nor the ones I don’t. I think anonymity is far more important in a small town than in a large one. And the News requires registering, although they don’t verify as they do for print letters. I think that works. I know the letters have been verified (although they could be faked if someone cared that much.)
    I think Rudolph’s comments have been valuable, no matter what his agenda. If I knew his identity, I’d do everything I could to protect it. I don’t know, and I’m ok with that. He makes me think. He challenges me to consider which of his ideas are true and which are nonsense. So what is the point of knowing who he is, other than gaining a chance to punish him because he is in a position where he could lose his job for exercising his right to free speech? Is this about truth or revenge? What would we gain by knowing who he is, other than the power to silence him?
    I find it more than a little disingenuous to talk about the damage of anonymous attacks after the untrue attacks that were allowed on this site over the last year in the guise of opinions. Happily, most of those have been ended now, mostly due to the continued revelations that have proven them unfounded. It seems that using names didn’t stop the damage, but the truth did.
    Well, we’ve staked out our positions and aren’t likely to change them. I can live with registering, as I do for the News and Salon and other sites, but there’s really nothing that keeps me from registering a false name. I can use dozens of identities and e-mail addresses, so I guess when it comes right down to it, Griff can control his site, as he has the right to do, and those who wish can maintain anonymity on other sites. And as for the illusion of this being about knowing everyone in town and keeping the small town civility we cherish, there are 19,000 of us, many with only cell phones and so no listing in the phone book. This isn’t a small town. We are not all friends who know each other or at least recognize each other on the street. This site is a small subset of the town, but it is not the town.
    The News is reaching a much broader audience, with much more diverse views than this group of commenters. They must have policies that work at all their papers in all their communities and beyond. They operate in a much more challenging and diverse world, and a much more competitive business model.
    I think it’s great that we have many options. I hope we can maintain them.

    April 2, 2008
  23. Eeeeeuw, Anne, “control issues?” How so? I think it’s a matter of responsibility that people put their name to their opinions. What’s the point of having values if you don’t own them and hold them out publicly to others in words and deeds?

    April 2, 2008
  24. Martha Cashman said:


    You were not obtuse in your post. However, you apparently did not agree with my response. No surprise. Your post is patronizing and, as usual, refuses to acknowledge the facts surrounding many of the issues. So “talk to the hand ….” I am outa here and offa here!

    April 2, 2008
  25. Well, if the truth be known, and you have a knowledgable IT guy around, like I do, no one will ever be completely anonymous sitting at home and posting anything. The anonymous poster can be tracked down even using the latest
    programs that promise cover. It might take a while but it can be done.

    Even from a library or other public place, a habitual user would prolly be found out.

    April 2, 2008
  26. kiffi summa said:

    Martha : I continue to be really saddened by the fact that you refuse to respond in a way that would be relevant to our “history”.

    Speak to “the hand” ? Mafia or the Bird?

    You can be angry: I AM NOT ……………except at those who use libel to “maliciously intend to damage others’ reputations” and who threaten others’ well-being.

    April 2, 2008
  27. Martha Cashman said:

    Nope, I am not angry, just finished with the discussion. We do not view the facts in the same way. Apparently we never will. And regarding our relevant “history”, I believe I heard from either you or Victor that “… friendship ends at the city hall door.”

    April 2, 2008
  28. Anne Bretts said:

    Carol, bullies always think shy kids should just toughen up. I’m not calling people here bullies, but it’s easy for strong personalities like us to own our opinions. We need to make safe places for people step into the discussion. Some people only find their voice to speak when they can do so without having to stand on stage in front of a crowd.
    Martha is strong enough to stand up to Kiffi and I don’t care what you think of me, but many others aren’t as self-confident as all of us are.
    It’s an honest difference of opinion. I see control issues and you see a moral obligation. I’m fine with Griff controling his own site. I’m just glad there are options out there. My point is that there should be options. If you don’t like sites with anonymous posts, don’t go there.

    April 2, 2008
  29. kiffi summa said:

    Martha: You did not hear that ( “friendship ends at the city hall door”) from me. When I tried to speak to you one night at city hall, you said, “I have nothing to say to you”. That was the first night you appeared at a council meeting. As a first greeting, that was pretty tough.

    Why can’t the issues, be “the issue” here?

    April 2, 2008
  30. Griff Wigley said:

    Martha and Kiffi, I think it would be best for you to handle your disagreement elsewhere, as it seems to involve primarily a personal issue between the two of you.

    April 2, 2008
  31. Martha Cashman said:


    I agree and will stop.

    April 2, 2008
  32. Holly Cairns said:

    I’d rather the News set up a Peacemaker group than a Watchdog group. I see they are looking for accounting, law, and public service.

    Graft? Waste? Drama baby, drama.

    April 2, 2008
  33. Anne Bretts said:

    Come on, Holly, no one ever wins a Pulitzer with warm fuzzies :-).
    Seriously, I can see the lawyers and accountants being used to analyze budgets and tax rates and well, the seemingly endless legal issues of city government. It’s a lot more tedious calculation and analysis than drama, let me assure you.

    April 2, 2008
  34. Holly Cairns said:

    You think our local lawyers and accountants will provide free analysis? Interesting.

    I’m upset by the Marsha/ Kiffi rift. I like it better when we all get along. Telling them to “take it someplace else” offended me, too.

    April 2, 2008
  35. Anne Bretts said:

    Well, Holly, when civic journalism started a lot of people thought there would be waves of people volunteering to cover city government for free and do investigative journalism for free. In general, the people who had that much interest in government had personal agendas that journalists wouldn’t have been allowed to have.
    People expect writers to work for free all the time. I have volunteered hundreds of hours to organizations, only to have them say in budget meetings, “Oh, we’d never pay anyone to write for us…”
    The point of having ‘watchdogs’ is to find news sources that might not be on the usual list. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If the paper uses outside sources it gets criticized, if it asks for local sources it gets hammered. May we can assume good motives, give it time and see what happens.
    And Griff, we seldom mean to cross the line. Perhaps if you have to ask people to cease and desist, you can do it in a personal e-mail and let them make a graceful exit. Just an idea.

    April 2, 2008
  36. Paul Fried said:

    Anne: In post #22, you write,
    “What would we gain by knowing who he is, other than the power to silence him?”

    This is clearly misdirection. I don’t, and never did, advocate silencing. You are equating anonymous free speech with free speech. It’s not the same thing. Smoke and mirrors. Don’t silence anyone, but require accountability.

    Sure, in some situations in a small town, anonymity is fine and useful. I don’t think it applies so well in the case you describe.

    If an employee might lose their job if they were found to be posting comments under their own name, I would offer that there might be other ways for the same person to vent or act as a whistleblower, if needed, and anonymously, without posting public comments.

    April 2, 2008
  37. Holly Cairns said:

    Citizen journalism? Where, at I remember when Griff started the CJ idea, and it seemed like a good idea.

    But the volunteer idea was snuffed out (IMHO) with the idea that personal opinion should be left out of articles. Also, people had to be great writers. Boom, suddenly– “this article and that article can’t be printed.”

    To make a long story short, there might have been a bunch of CJs interested in covering city issues, etc. but it didn’t go down well. Everyone jump on me now and tell me what really went on… okay… waiting…

    Anne, honestly, the idea of a watchdog news group reminds me of McCarthyism. I understand the News needs to be creative, though. So, as you say, maybe give it time and we’ll see what greatness the group can do?

    About comments that tend towards being a rift instead of a discussion: Instead of “take it elsewhere ladies” maybe we can think of another idea. Something fun, but not at my expense.

    April 2, 2008
  38. Holly Cairns said:

    Hey, what is the story behind Rudolph the Red, again? I can’t find it…

    April 2, 2008
  39. Anne Bretts said:

    Paul, we just need to agree to disagree. No point in rehashing our positions. I just read the rules on the Pioneer Press and they seem to be doing just fine with anonymous comments. It’s just not a big deal.
    Holly, I was talking about civic journalism in general — I’ve only been here three years, so I don’t have the local history. And nearly every newspaper, ratio station and television news organization considers itself a watchdog and recruits citizens as tipsters, commenters, photographers and sources. I can’t imagine that being McCarthyism, so maybe you can explain that concept a little more.

    April 2, 2008
  40. Martha Cashman said:

    Hey folks, I have no dog in this fight. Please do not fall on your ‘swords’ for something so trivial.

    I appreciate the support and the jeers. I have learned more than I ever thought possible and ya know what (??????) I am okay. I am better educated and have greater common sense than I did when I went to bed last night!

    Kiffi and I disagree on the “facts”. I am surmising that we may never agree in the future.

    I do agree with Griff that it need not be played out on this blog.

    I still think Bright has the correct name for her soul. I’ll trust her Grandfather for her ‘eyes’.

    I think Anne has some awesome insight and wisdom that we all should consider more carefully.

    I know first-hand that life is too short to quibble with ‘neighbors’. Just think of never being able to say “I am sorry — I regret ………..” I am still watching, committed and intend to improve my new home — Northfield!

    I am still proud to say I am Noah Cashman’s sister.

    Ya gotta love this place — better than reality TV!!!!!!!!

    April 2, 2008
  41. Anne Bretts said:

    Cheers, Martha, for your graciousness and your reminder that meeting the letter of this site’s civility laws is not the same as embracing the spirit of civility.
    Cheers to all…

    April 2, 2008
  42. Anne Bretts said:

    Yikes, Griff can you fix my typo? If not, sorry, Martha. (Too long at the laptop my eyes and fingertips are failing me. Time to log off)

    April 2, 2008
  43. Griff Wigley said:

    Anne, see the paragraph in our Guidelines on ‘public intervention.’

    Anne wrote:

    “And Griff, we seldom mean to cross the line. Perhaps if you have to ask people to cease and desist, you can do it in a personal e-mail and let them make a graceful exit. Just an idea.”

    April 3, 2008
  44. Griff Wigley said:

    I think it’s fine, in general, for the Northfield News and to allow anonymous comments. Choice is good in this case.

    Here at LoGroNo, and in nearly all my other online community-building projects, there’s a different overall mission that I think is furthered by requiring commenters to be who they are IRL (In Real Life). But that doesn’t mean everyone should have the same mission.

    April 3, 2008
  45. Griff – what matters most to me is that you have set out clear guidelines available to all and are putting it up there as a reminder every now and then. The requirement of identification is the only way I see to hold people accountable for their statements. I don’t have a lot of time for those blogs where the writers are anonymous, their opinions are worth far less if they won’t own up to them, own them. It’s common in political stuff, like the Democrats Exposed site where the author wrote pretty snide and nasty stuff, though was ultimately outed, or even Spotty in Edina who’s been ID’d using triangulation. I always use my full name when posting in newspaper comments, which I do daily on energy issues, it’s a daily task to get word out and inform readers with projects in their communities, and in doing this, I see a lot of comments from all over the country. In blog posts and newspaper comments, the inciteful, slanderous, trash-talking and ugly comments are anonymous, people tossing out verbal bombs from under cover. I’ve had weird comments on my blog that I traced to utility employees, one of whom claimed his mother wrote it (on his business account, oh, right, sure… I have an urge to send a link to HR at his employer!). Anyway, I appreciate LoGroNo policy, that people are named, and wish all commenting would require it. I also think there should be intense junior and senior HS curriculum in writing opinion pieces, comments, and obligation of public participation as the essence of global citizenship. Being a member of the human race is not a spectator sport! Of course, public participation is not a value promoted in NCLB standards!

    April 3, 2008
  46. Paul Fried said:

    Anne: I wasn’t rehashing anything I’d said when I noted that it was misdirection for you to claim, “What would we gain by knowing who he is, other than the power to silence him?”

    If I’d noted that we might gain an awareness of a possible conflict of interest on the part of the person posting anonymous comments, that would have been re-hashing.

    And I was not rehashing anything I’d said before when I observed that employees who fear for their jobs but wish to act as whistleblowers have other avenues open to them besides anonymous comments.

    But yes, let’s agree to disagree, and that there’s no need to rehash.

    April 3, 2008
  47. Holly Cairns said:

    Anne said:

    And nearly every newspaper, ratio station and television news organization considers itself a watchdog and recruits citizens as tipsters, commenters, photographers and sources. I can’t imagine that being McCarthyism, so maybe you can explain that concept a little more.

    I meant the part where they describe what the watchdogs will do:

    We’re looking for people who are interested in exposing waste and corruption or just want to be part of finding better solutions. All are encouraged to apply, but experience in accounting, law and public service is especially helpful.

    There’s a line between bing a good citizen i.e. asking questions as we come across something, and a group formed with such intent as to “expose” and investigate our neighbors. Soon, dissent will equal treason? Or perhaps, in our small community, ostracism… will we start to suspect each other, and then begin to raid each other’s homes?

    okay, I’m just having fun with this.

    April 3, 2008
  48. Holly Cairns said:

    More for Anne and others in the special watchdog group:

    I guess here is the center of my argument: A watchdog group assigned to assess local activity suggests a unified voice which can ultimately define what is “acceptible” behavior in our community.

    Further, this suggests exclusivity, which I don’t like:

    All are encouraged to apply, but experience in accounting, law and public service is especially helpful.

    still having fun with this 🙂

    April 3, 2008
  49. Paul Fried said:

    Holly: Good that you bring up (in #37) the analogy of McCarthyism in relation to watchdogs. There are ethical issues related to watchdogs and anonymous sources in journalism and government. These issues trouble some folks more than others (and in general, I think it’s the folks who are not troubled that we have to watch out for). We know of cases where journalists make up anonymous sources. Editorial oversight strives to avoid abuse, but editors miss some abuses. We know that government officials, long ago, learned the political/PR value of intentional leaks from “an unnamed government source.”

    I’m not so much against watchdogs or anonymous sources themselves, as a matter of principle, as against their abuse. It’s good to have systems in place that guard against abuse, and to understand that no system will be foolproof. To that extent I agree with Griff.

    Yet if an anonymous commenter (like Rudolph the Red, commenting on the NfldNews site) leaves a remark that their identity needs to remain unknown or certain people would have to fear for their safety, some might claim they view this as merely a joke, even “obviously a joke,” but if you’re among those who read this as a threat, it’s no joke at all.

    Then anonymity is not being used as a tool of last resort for people who have a need and right to be heard, but being used as sport to intimidate. No one has the right to make “inside” jokes about how others should fear for their safety, and then assume that one still has some ethical claim to anonymity. That’s crap.

    It’s not so different from the white employer who leaves a noose on his desk, calls the black employee in, and asks if he’s happy about his employment, and later says it’s “only a joke.” (Then, in their defense, they will claim, “Well, I didn’t hang him, did I? And, gosh, I never intended to! I actually like him a lot!” – as if that’s consolation….)

    You don’t hide behind the white robes (ah, anonymity!) and burn a cross on someone’s lawn, and then claim it was “only a joke.” And you don’t make “jokes” about people’s safety. I think we have to wake up and smell the ethical line that was crossed.

    Limiting the response to simply deleting the offensive comments or ambiguous joke-threat isn’t enough. Anyone threatened by such an anonymous “joker” should have law enforcement on their tail, and every means necessary should be used to determine who the anonymous “joker” was, and those threatened should have the option of pressing charges.

    So draw the ethical line. It’s one thing for Rudolph the Red (commenting on the Northfield News web site) to be an anonymous whistleblower of sorts, and to display generous wit and humor in the process. It’s another to cross the ethical line and, jokingly or not, make statements that some perceive as threats. It doesn’t matter if half of the folks reading consider it “just a joke.” Draw the line.

    April 3, 2008
  50. Holly Cairns said:

    This discussion has a few tangents going… someone explain to me the Rudolph the Red comment which apparently was left in the News?

    Or, how does the watchdog group fit with the annonymous commenter? Did the watchdog group allow the post…

    Anyway, now I’ll add to the discussion about annonymous posting. Some of this discussion reminds me of my mother’s advice: It’s always best to say what we mean, and if you can’t say something to someone’s face, don’t say it at all. I’m glad Griff doesn’t allow for anonymous postings. And I think we should come up with some fun way to stop a conversation if it’s getting out of hand– like 50 lashes with a wet noodle… something like that. Or a free cup of coffee at GBM while everyone sings your favorite song…

    You know, I can’t post on DME because they shut me out. (Minnesotademocratsexposed) I could go downtown and post on a public computer– but that is so stupid! If they really don’t want me commenting, then I guess that’s how it’ll be. I’m not going to sneak around just to get a comment on there.

    All I did was suggest that Michael was helping democrats get elected and boom– no more posting on that site. Banned.

    April 3, 2008
  51. Holly Cairns said:

    Oh hey Paul, I see you were commenting while I was commenting. Good points 🙂

    April 3, 2008
  52. Holly Cairns said:

    Ok, I read all the way back to Kiffi/Victor’s post #7.

    I think there should be no group, and Kiffi/Victor is already getting the group to do work! To discuss/evaluate the idea of anonymous comments.

    April 3, 2008
  53. Anne Bretts said:

    Holly, I am on the citizen advisory group with Paul. I’m not on the watchdog group. And as far as I know there is no watchdog group, as such, just a network of people who can be resources for the paper, much as newspapers have used since they started. It’s an effort to reach out to the community and make the newspaper more connected, not an effort to create a posse of vigilantes. Minnesota Public Radio launched a similar effort a long while ago and there have been no giant corruption reports that I’ve seen.
    Realistically, there’s just not a lot of corruption here to expose.
    I think it’s odd that people are here discussing the watchdog group and condemning it without talking to the people at the News and finding out what it is first. How can you be against something based on speculation and rumor? Why not talk to the editor and publisher and ask them what they’re planning? What has been described here is nothing like any newspaper operation I’ve ever known, but I can’t speak for the paper because I haven’t discussed with them and I’m not worried about their intentions.
    They aren’t going to join this conversation because this is the competition, so if you want to engage them, go to their site, contact them and start a dialogue.
    As for your earlier comments and those of Paul, what you are describing is nothing like any newspaper operation I’ve known or any watchdog process I’ve ever seen.
    To compare anonymous comments to cross burning is insulting to those who have really dealt with the Klan. The Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press and many reputable family newspapers have used anonymous comments for years online without a breakdown in morality.
    As for your final comment, perhaps you can clarify. Who is forming a group about what?

    April 3, 2008
  54. Thank you, Martha, that was a beautiful thing to say, and i just now got myself back up off the floor, after having read your post #40, six hours ago!

    April 3, 2008
  55. Paul Fried said:

    Anne: You write, “To compare anonymous comments to cross burning is insulting to those who have really dealt with the Klan.”

    I agree. But that was not my comparison. (You seem to be misdirecting a bit again. Is that on purpose?)

    To compare anonymous threats (joking or not) to the safety of a reader to the anonymous acts of the Klan, this is a different comparison.

    Not the same as comparing all anonymous comments (even benevolent ones — keep your eye on the ball here) to the Klan.

    I agree with you regarding your judgment of the more general comparison. That would not apply. That would be like comparing an armed police man (honest, good, or otherwise, but unspecified) to a murderer who whose weapon of choice was a gun. Poor comparison. Not helpful. We agree on that.

    The devil’s in the details.

    April 3, 2008
  56. Anne Bretts said:

    Paul, I apolgize for the inaccuracy of my comparison. We got a second cat and it has triggered a severe allergic reaction and I’m just tired and foggy right now. (Anyone who wants an adorable little tuxedo cat, just let me know).
    I am not deliberately misdirecting now, nor was I earlier. After reading Holly’s comments and yours and others in this thread I was just really overwhelmed by all the hostility and misunderstanding about a profession I love and respect.
    I know it’s hard for many to believe, but I am simply speechless…

    April 3, 2008
  57. kiffi summa said:

    Holly: Your april3, 1:24 post (#50?) You ask about Rudolph the Red……..
    Rudolph has been posting on the NFNews site since the first week of March. There, for a while seem to be two distinct “voices”. Anne Bretts commented to that point. Sometimes there seems to be a third voice. At any rate, the news’s editor , Sam Gett , has said that they have not been able to verify any e-mail address, which would give me pause; I guess they are feeling that maybe they are only drawing questionable (Un- verifiable) comments, because Mr. Gett said they are changing their “platform provider”.

    What will Rudolph do then, given the seeming need to issue agressive comments, threats, often without any factual background. Will this exacerbate Rudolph’s aggression?

    Victor and I have been the main targets of Rudolph’s comments, although he has taken off on others, also.

    The concern re:libel , which no one seemed to caRe to address, well here’s an example…….Rudolph seems to think that Victor “bought” his seat on the EDA, and on the Charter Commission. Now, let’s just deal with the Charter commission. If a person bought their seat on the Chart/comm, that would be an illegal act, since it would involve paying off a public official, so that is a serious/libelous thing to say. However, it gets really serious when you make that accusation in the situation of a charter seat, since they’re appointed by the chief district judge……therefore you are not only libeling the applicant by saying the seat was “bought”, but also making the same accusation against the judge who would have “sold”/ filled it.

    Gets serious, doesn’t it?

    I don’t know if you can see all of Rudolph’s many comments by going back in the News archives; most of them are political doggerel IMHO, some are hysterical rants, I can’t recall any with facts; a few have very serious implications.

    Again, I wonder: What will Rudolph do if the News requires verification in the future?

    April 3, 2008
  58. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Kiffi,

    I did go look for Rudolph on the News site. I found irritating comments about Dave Maroney.

    Did you ask the News to remove the comments about you two? I think they should have a policy which would include removing comments that are offensive, or could cause any type of litigous action, etc.

    I’ve never talked with anyone who didn’t like the Summas. And so, who the heck is Rudolph the Red? Nosed reindeer? He probably lives in another town and is messing with us Northfielders.

    April 4, 2008
  59. Holly Cairns said:

    Paul, now I understand your thoughts on this issue.

    I wonder what constitutes ‘hate crime”? Does that include deragatory remarks of a certain nature?

    On the News site: I can’t find any comments by Rudolph the Red other than the annoying comment I found before. I’m sorry you have to deal with that, Victor and Kiffi.

    Hey Rudolph– this situation goes beyond 50 lashes of a wet noodle. Why are you so purposefully unkind, and why can’t you use your name?

    April 4, 2008
  60. kiffi summa said:

    Holly: I did ask the News to remove comments that were purely personal attacks and were attached to news articles that they had no content relationship to, and they wanted to do that and did.
    Many other comments remained if they bore some content relationship to the article. I have copies of them , others have copies of them, but I have no idea what remains in the archived articles.

    As I have said before, I believe Rudolph(s) can’t use his/ their name because of their connections with city hall. I could easily be wrong about that; it may just be what I refer to as cowardly behavior which cannot make a factual argument, but only write personal rants.

    I still wonder/speculate…..what will Rudolph do if the News’s new policy insists on verifiable return address? Will he surface here, with a name; it’s obvious he monitors this site all the time from the comments on the News site. He wrote about the comments I made about the DARE table at the grocery, criticizing me for not getting out there and getting involved. Many people know that I worked with Youth Plus for it’s entire existence , have been on the adult board at the key for 60r eight years, and a constant voice in support of youth.

    Rudolph just doesn’t “fight” with facts, neither do some others. Vilification without facts is easier to do. Occasionally Rudolph writes with a”council voice”……. I think Rudolph probably knows quite a few facts,but it does not serve his purpose to use them.

    April 4, 2008
  61. Holly Cairns said:

    Kiffi– as to looking around wondering who Rudolph is:

    Hopefully several people will offer you support, and tell you “It wasn’t me!” Better to focus on those people. You can’t please everyone… right.

    April 4, 2008
  62. Anne Bretts said:

    And so, really, what is the point of knowing who Rudolph is? We know his/her views, and many have judged the comments’ value accordingly. The comments aren’t illegal, aren’t libelous, and so there is no action to be taken. People have said if you use you own your comments, it’s OK to make them.
    So, if Rudolph comes forward, the matter ends? There’s no attempt to retaliate?
    There is no point in knowing more. If you want to respond, post a comment to him. If you don’t value the comments, ignore them.
    This is where the demand for a name seems not like a concern for accountability but control and intimidation, the very reasons people would choose to be anonymous.

    April 4, 2008
  63. Tracy Davis said:

    Anne, you said in your comment #53,

    . . . I can’t speak for the paper because I haven’t discussed with them and I’m not worried about their intentions. They aren’t going to join this conversation because this is the competition, so if you want to engage them, go to their site, contact them and start a dialogue.

    I’m genuinely curious. The Northfield News thinks Locally Grown is “the competition”? In what sense? We don’t do news or journalism in any sort of systematic or professional way, and we don’t solicit or take advertising. In what way are we competing?

    April 4, 2008
  64. Griff Wigley said:

    Tracy, I’d agree with you that we don’t compete on content and advertising, but I think LG does compete with both the Northfield News and for web traffic/eyeballs because that’s part of what enables any given site to have influence in the community.

    April 4, 2008
  65. Tracy Davis said:

    Griff, how many times I gotta tell you: Influence, schminfluence. People want money.

    April 4, 2008
  66. Holly Cairns said:

    Anne, the comments may be considered libelous…

    April 4, 2008
  67. Anne Bretts said:

    Tracy, you’re kidding, right?
    Of course you’re the competition. Every site on the web is competing for users’ eyeballs and attention. And advertisers want users. So why would the News come here and help build your traffic? They’d be crazy to ever make a comment, though they read you and follow the issues.
    The News would love to have your eyeballs and comments, and they fully intend to fight for them when they get a new website platform that better supports comments and forums.
    I don’t comment on their operations and intent because the only contact I have is through the advisory board, where we give feedback. We all agree to keep the discussions informal and they don’t publish our comments, so I wouldn’t share them here. There’s no big vow of secrecy, just respect for the private comments of individuals. I am happy to repeat my own remarks, but not those of others. As for policy, Sam and Jaci have to answer. I can just guess based on my experience in the news business.

    April 4, 2008
  68. kiffi summa said:

    Well, Griff, you seem to have hit the jackpot with this one!
    In the first three days, there were only two comments; now in the last three you’ve jumped from 21 to 69 and day three isn’t over yet!

    Rudolph is probably loving all the attention.

    April 4, 2008
  69. kiffi summa said:

    I’m curious to know why a journalist of twenty+ years experience would not recognize as libel an accusation, with absolutely no proof, of the commission of a crime both by a citizen and an officer of the court?

    The reason why it is important to ascertain who the Rudolphs are, is that by their use of anonymity in the accusations they make, they are exercising “control and intimidation”.

    April 5, 2008
  70. Tracy Davis said:

    Anne (and Griff), positioning LG and the NN as competitors is like saying the Muni and Kwik-Trip are competing with each other because they both sell beverages.

    When I find a new blog that I like, I don’t stop reading another one. I add the new one and follow it for awhile to see if it holds my interest. It’s not a zero-sum game. And part of the beauty of the internet is this novel little thing called “hyperlinks”, which (in terms of building traffic) can be seen as part of the rising tide that lift all boats.

    In my not-so-humble opinion, the News would do better to differentiate their product, not try to duplicate what’s already being done on LG. I know farming is more work than poaching, but there it is…

    April 5, 2008
  71. Anne Bretts said:

    So why do liquor stores fight so hard to keep grocery stores from selling liquor? After all, liquor would only be a part of what they sell. In other states, groceries and drug stores sell liquor at a loss just to get people in the door to buy other items.
    And yes, the liquor store would be more competition for the convenience stores if it were on the highway and expanded its merchandise.
    IMHO, Locally Grown using the Northfield News content as the basis for most of your threads, even with the fig leaf of links, is like me bringing a group of friends and my own wine to a restaurant and ordering an appetizer and spending three hours listening to the band. Technically, I have supported the restaurant. Of course, that’s just my opinion.
    Some communities have partnerships between the newspaper and other sites. Perhaps your journalism experts from the foundation can weigh in on this.
    And perhaps they can weigh in on the libel issue and anonymous comments as well.

    April 5, 2008
  72. Tracy Davis said:

    WOW, Anne…. I can’t believe you’re serious in your assertion that the Northfield News content is the basis for most of our threads. No, civic issues and events provide the basis for most of our threads; they happen to be the basis for most News articles too.

    At least half the time while posting or commenting, I try to find things on the News site to link to, and the News simply hasn’t covered it.

    In short, if the News had been doing what they now say they want to do, Locally Grown probably wouldn’t even exist. Neither would Both grew to fill a niche that wasn’t being addressed. The News has certainly had the chance; it’s tried various incarnations of “community portal” and has made major attempts at “interactive” or “discussion” on their website at least four times since 1995 and it’s tanked each time.

    Again, it’s not a zero-sum thing; adding readers to LG doesn’t diminish readership of the NN site… unless they’re trying to do the same thing we are, but not as well.

    The Northfield News’s position, if I understand it correctly from what you’ve said, is a clear demonstration of how “turf wars” develop in this town. The Northfield News doesn’t own the time, attention and advertising dollars of every person and business in Northfield by default. They need to earn it.

    I believe there’s room in the blogosphere for both Locally Grown and the Northfield News. And, as a business person, it seems to me to be a better model, especially in a small market, to find something that ISN’T being done rather than copy something that is. If you’re not doing something adequately, and someone steps in to fill the gap, why not collaborate rather than compete?

    April 5, 2008
  73. Tracy Davis said:

    I should also mention that Griff and Ross and I had a very good meeting with the News editor Sam Gett a few months ago…. Sam seemed genuinely open-minded and I had a brief glimmer of hope that some of that might rub off on the Higher Powers at the NN. I left that meeting with a lot of ideas about ways LG and the News could work together to build something that would benefit both entities (and the entire community). It’s too bad the news seems to take an adversarial stance with anyone they, in their monopolistic delusion, deem to be “competition”.

    April 5, 2008
  74. kiffi summa said:

    Tracy: hasn’t it been evidenced on this thread, many times, that opinion is opinion, except for when it has been evidenced that opinion which cannot be supported by fact is just as valid, for its own sake, as fact?
    (A demonstrable fact, Griff, not sarcasm)

    Surely only a factual observer of the parallel , concurrent worlds of quantum mechanics could think that each news site might have a discrete world of news events on which to report.

    Who, and how, would each player stake out their subject matter, never to be explored by another thought process? Flags on the moon, so to speak.

    I get an instant mental picture of a world composed of islands, each with one shipwrecked person sitting under a lone straggly palm tree, talking loudly to her/his self.

    April 5, 2008
  75. Gee, Tracy, I wish we had met you when we first came to town. My dh and I came up here to work on the USPS website, and we also wanted to start a business of our own up here.

    The encouragement we got from local business promoters was ( and we went to every offering, did the whole gamut of research on the whereabouts and so on), “Oh, we already have a computer guy in town.” without knowing what my dh’s experience and expertise were in his field, and oh, the one I like the best was, “Why don’t you contact the government’s Small Business Administration?” Which of course we had done way before we ever came here.

    So, since my dh’s USPS contract is up now, we are working for companies
    in Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, and St. Cloud. It seems like we are welcomed to work with anyone as long as they are not from here. Oh, well, my dh did set up the flight scheduler for, ah, but that’s only next to Northfield.

    April 5, 2008
  76. Paul Fried said:

    Anne is right, and Sam acknowledges, that in some ways, LoGroNo and NNews are competitors (“No one likes to be scooped”). But I think both often see themselves as complimentary.

    Certainly, if NNews had started a successful web log and community discussion forum long ago — and it increased interest in their products, and helped their ad revenue, even indirectly — this would have been great.

    But the current situation accomplishes much of the same. Yes, sometimes LoGroNo starts discussions based on NNews stories. But discussion here often sends readers back, more informed and watchful, when they read NNews.

    There will always be some NNews readers who don’t visit LoGroNo, so even if they’re scooped, sometimes you can be late, but better prepared with a print story. Both promote awareness of stories and issues, and, I’d say, this results in a good synergy.

    But this is thread drift. Tracy, maybe you should start a thread asking for ideas about how LoGroNo and NNews can improve the synergy and build on the best of what’s already happening. This is getting a bit far from watchdogs and reader panels….

    April 5, 2008
  77. Anne Bretts said:

    Wait a minute, Tracy, talk about miscommunication… You seem to think I speak for the newspaper and I don’t. I have never pretended to speak for ‘the public’ or the News or all journalists or anyone but myself.
    I’m an observer and no more. You should base your relationship with the News on your discussions with Sam, not my opinions. And you seem to be jumping from one observation to a broad assertion that the News thinks you should pay to mention their stories or not use them….so not true….
    I don’t have a problem with competition. If I were opposed to your existence I wouldn’t comment here or read you. (For example, I support the right to make anonymous comments online but use my name at the News because I believe that’s what I should do.) I think you’re strong competition, but I think the News owners are perfectly capable of dealing with competition.
    Let me start over. I would never have brought this up, but you asked a direct question and then got insulted at my answer. I believe you are competition. I factored the prices a little high, so let me change my analogy. To me LG’s use of the News is more like paying for a movie ticket and popcorn and bringing in your own candy bar. It’s not the end of the world, but it affects the theater’s bottom line. IMHO, if you truly wanted to support the News and avoid competition, you’d mention the story, turn off the comments and encourage people to go to the News site and comment. But your goal is to have the conversation here. Take a look at your monthly stats thread…you’re counting viewers just as much as the newspaper is.
    You asked what I thought, and that’s it. I don’t know how much competition the News considers you. I find it fascinating that everyone assumes the newspaper’s position on things when you can just pick up the phone and ask them directly. Maybe you should have Sam and Jaci on a podcast. I’ve asked many times for all of you guys to have a panel discussion on these issues, but everyone seems to prefer speculation.
    It’s easy to take shots at the News. You started up online with three well-connected people volunteering your time and controling the operation without having to account to readers or advertisers or employees.
    You don’t carry the weight of living wages, health insurance, buildings, utilities, and a print edition that you know will be obsolete but can’t be abandoned. You don’t cover sports, or government or the courts or the county or school menus or honor rolls or all the other things that cost a lot of money to prepare and a lot of paper to print. So while you’re picking off interesting stories and having fun (and working), the News is supporting both a print and online edition, neither of which is a really thriving financial venture. (Sure print makes money today, but when you factor in downward spiral, it’s not something you want to depend on. And online advertising usually sucks money from the print side instead of generating lots of new advertising. (My observation, with no access to the News finances).
    As I said before, these are great topics for your new partners in journalism, so please tap them as a resource.
    IMHO, there is way too much drama about all this stuff. Threats, intimidation, competition, libel, sarcasm. It’s just paper — and keystrokes.
    You know what your friends think and what other people think doesn’t really matter.

    April 5, 2008
  78. Anne –

    I wonder if you’re reading the same paper that I’ve been, because the News that I know has run staged “news” stunts planted by political hacks, run a false subheadline about me that their attorney read and said, “It made me cringe when I saw it.” The paper has refused to print truthful and substantiated editorials about local violations of campaign law and put writers through contortions trying to satisfy their editorial demands while at the same time printing some pretty slanderous stuff from others on the opposite side. Through history they’ve fired reporters who worked hard to fully cover stories that they didn’t want fully covered. I like to see improvements and public responsiveness, but there’s a lot to criticize, and fairly, and this is why so many in Northfield would roll their eyes even where the paper has new leadership and is truly working on problems and trying to increase their responsiveness and get “civic journalists” involved. Among people I know (NOT a representative sample) there’s always rumblings that another paper is needed, though I’d prefer a community radio station with local news and live broadcasts of meetings with play by play commentary like golf or Mystery Science Theater. LoGroNo and are filling the vacuum. The passion expressed in negative comments about the News is from longstanding problems, and earned skepticism that nothing’s really going to change. It’ll take a while, and substantial work, to turn those of us around who have been dealing with the News as it has been. It’s sort of like hearing a claim that the Mesabi Daily News wants input on coverage from those fighting the Mesaba Project — we’d all snort, keep sending information as we have been, and expect it to be business as usual.

    April 6, 2008
  79. Anne Bretts said:

    Well, Carol, I’m not defending the news or mainline newspapers. I’ve only been here three years. I didn’t like the attitude when I came, but I think Sam and Jaci have been making amazing progress, based on what I have observed and my limited contact with them. IMHO, as usual.
    You can work with the new people at the News to make things better or you can ignore them and stay on LoGroNo and or you can hang on to the past and continue to fight battles that are over against people who are no longer there. I guess I’d give them a fair shot and attack them when they give me some new ammunition.
    Papers reflect the society they serve. If enough people demand a change, it would happen. I have seen it happen.
    As I said in earlier posts, I have no illusions about mainline newspapers. I have worked at racist papers and papers where editors favored the Catholic Church or hated women or native Americans or poor people.
    That’s why there have been alternative papers and special interest papers and ethnic newspapers and neighborhood papers and trade publications — all filling voids in mainline coverage.
    And I’m not saying that and LoGroNo shouldn’t exist…I think they all serve some purpose, and even if they didn’t free speech/press principles guarantee their right to exist.

    April 6, 2008
  80. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: Could you please enter here as you sometimes do, in a moderation mode?

    It has been terribly difficult , on this thread, to get people to address the issue rather than engage in personal or defensive invective.

    How is one supposed to respond to a comment like: “You know what your friends think and what other people think doesn’t really matter” #79 (?) april 5. 7:49 pm ?

    My initial response wouldn’t be allowed………

    To the issue of the Nf News “position”………. is it not accurate that readers must ascertain what the position of the Newspaper is by their editorials, by the reporting that they do, whether or not they report from an unbiased position, whether or not they seek to ask, and answer, the questions that their stories raise……….. in other words by everything they write , and the positions they take by their own written word?

    I can easily sympathize with the failing position that print news finds itself in, at all levels, in all cities, large and small. Deplorable for a valued and honored profession.

    Maybe the saving, distinguishing, and financially reclaiming position would be to become the most journalistic pure, ethically strong, small newspaper around, one that sets a standard for the small town newspaper that cannot be RESISTED, in the sense that everyone wants to see what they have to say, and MUST subscribe, or pick it up at a kiosk, because it is what is generating the discussion “on the street”. That will never happen if there is a free accessible website that draws irresponsible comment , for the most part.

    If the present model is “doomed” to failure, be bold; strike out in a new direction. A “niche” newspaper would succeed in NF; a broadsheet that you saw in peoples hands, in the coffeehouse and on the street.

    April 6, 2008
  81. Paul Fried said:

    Carol: Thanks for your explanation of your view in #79 regarding previous management and refusal to write certain stories. I didn’t know David or Ray when I came to town, and I had a good relationship with the paper; they’d run a number of my guest columns a number of years in a row — until I submitted a guest column looking into Ray’s signs at businesses. Stone wall. I wrote many drafts, which they passed on to their lawyers. Stalling. Finally I revised the piece, taking the angle that local businesses should know the law, and that, if they put up candidate signs, they risk tens of thousands of dollars in fines, and maybe jail time (all true). When the column was friendly and helpful to advertisers, they finally agreed to run it (very quickly, as compared to all their stalling on previous drafts).

    KiffI: I’m not sure that Anne’s comments need Griff to step in as a moderator. Anne (in comment 78) wrote,
    “Threats, intimidation, competition, libel, sarcasm. It’s just paper — and keystrokes.
    You know what your friends think and what other people think doesn’t really matter.”

    Anne is free to have her opinion. There are laws against libel. A good lawyer might disagree with her. Sometimes she comes off as a Neocon of journalism (ends justify means?) She may disagree with that impression, but it’s easy from the above quote to get that impression.

    Bush says similar stuff: “Constitution? It’s just a piece of paper!” Why moderate or censor when folks say stuff like that? It’s kind of refreshing to know right where people stand.

    April 6, 2008
  82. Anne Bretts said:

    Kiffi, I don’t respond because Griff asked us months ago not to address or respond to each other directly. I also don’t respond because we don’t agree, so once each of us has stated our position, there’s no real point in tearing each other down to prove who’s ‘right,’ making everyone else uncomfortable and bored.
    So, you state your position, I state mine. The others evaluate them. Griff moderates. I’m fine with that.
    I’m fine with taking potshots from anonymous or identified writers on Northfield News, although even the editor worried that some against me crossed the line. I feel they are the price of a free press, just as the Klan marches and neo-Nazi demonstrations are the price of free speech. I’d rather see hateful anonymous comments against me than not know what people were thinking because someone else decided I didn’t have the right to see them.
    And thanks, Paul, but I’m hardly a neocon (The photo of my grandfather shaking JFK’s hand just fell off the wall). This is just my opinion. My point was that there is so much drama over all this when you think of the real issues in journalism. I remember my colleagues covering the riots when union and non-union forces collided over non-union construction at the Boise Cascade plant in International Falls. I remember colleagues covering violent confrontations at the lakes of northern Wisconsin when Ojibwe band members tried to revive their spearfishing tradition. There are journalists all over the world being shot and jailed and newspaper offices being bombed over government interference.
    I have had death threats (pretty lame ones) and all of us in this field have had threats from people trying to get us fired for what we wrote (or didn’t write) about one thing or another. We’ve all had editors who kept us from writing something we thought was important.
    And yes, journalism is a real calling but newspapers are a business. The newspaper office is not City Hall and you don’t have an inherent right to make someone publish something they don’t want to publish. Anyone can do journalism. If you’re not happy with what a newspaper is doing, you can demonstrate, organize a campaign to contact advertisers, you can get people to cancel subscriptions, or start and e-mail or letter campaign or start your own blog or newspaper. Freedom of the press means you have the right to have a printing press, not that you have a right to control someone else’s press. And you have the right to sit around and complain and do nothing.
    I don’t see anyone furious because the radio station doesn’t do investigative reporting or because doesn’t do it or that the Entertainment Guide doesn’t do it. All sell ads and all provide information. There is nothing magic about being a newspaper.
    Rudolph’s comments are no closer to libel than the months of accusations against Mr. Roder. (The newspaper has a very good media lawyer to make sure.) Rudolph is no danger to Victor and Kiffi. Victor and Kiffi driving around outside someone’s home are no more a threat than prayer ladies sitting silently in City Hall were a threat to my religious beliefs or my access to government.
    Yes, these issues in Northield are tied to important principles, but let’s get some perspective here. You are all neighbors and friends in a city you all say you love. You brag constantly about how special this town is and how open it is and how everyone is welcome. This is just a discussion. Whether you write anonymously or not isn’t something you get to decide, it’s a matter of preference by the ones who control the websites. But by all means, you have the right to gripe about it.
    Finally, we don’t agree. It’s OK. I don’t care what you think. By that I mean, I’m OK with you disagreeing. I don’t care that you think differently. I don’t care that you think I’m nuts (I’ve probably felt that way about one or two of you from time to time, but we don’t have to work together or have Thanksgiving together, so it truly doesn’t matter what we think of each other.)
    There are people who matter to me and I do care what they think, but in the end I answer to my conscience and my God.
    Now, perhaps you can get back to the original topic and discuss the News’ plan for watchdog journalism, or what you’d suggest in its place.

    April 6, 2008
  83. Paul Fried said:

    Anne: Sounds like rich professional history, but while you may feel that way as a seasoned journalist, that may be (and perhaps should be) very different from the view of the average citizen. I might like my journalists to have a hard skin, but I’m not sure I want to live in a neighborhood where, as a norm, the residents all say, “Threats, intimidation, competition, libel, sarcasm. It’s just paper — and keystrokes.”

    April 6, 2008
  84. Anne Bretts said:

    Paul, as I explained in my last post, I was talking about the level of danger in all those areas as they exist in Northfield. I think there’s a difference between having a thick skin and being able to put all this in some perspective. I’m not a world-weary cynic; all those things happened at relatively small papers in Minnesota and Indiana. You just have to read the Star Tribune or the New York Times — or the headlines on Yahoo — to see there might be a bit too much drama here. To do my part in ending the drama — and thread drift, I’m going to quit responding to comments about my comments.
    This is about what ideas people have to improve things in your town.
    Please move back to the thread topic.

    April 7, 2008
  85. kiffi summa said:

    “If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck”… looks like a response.
    Personal rehash, or on topic? Some of both.

    April 7, 2008
  86. Holly Cairns said:

    Here’s my two cents:

    So, the bad blood from the News comments has spilled over to here. But let’s remember that the two sources of information (LoGroNo and the News) are separate. It’s my feeling that LoGroNo does a better job when they don’t allow anonymous posters, and it should be the the News having discussion about Rudolph.

    I don’t like watchdog groups. Citizen participation is good, however, if the intent is noble and not pompous, too judgemental, or exclusive.

    As for the News and LoGroNo having similar content: Wow, that’s a new one. I see “same content” all over the place. Strib runs a story that TV Channels 4 and 5 cover for lunch. It would be fun to figure out who owns the news, but mostly no one cares about that, they just want to be connected. The News and LoGroNo don’t have the same take on stories, either, and that is what makes this site interesting.

    Anne, it’s not nice to write “I don’t care what you think.” You usually are more elegant than that… although many times it just seems like you are stirring the pot for the sake of stirring.

    Kiffi and Victor– chin up and maybe don’t take the bait.

    Happy Monday!

    April 7, 2008
  87. Paul Fried said:

    Holly: I don’t meant to speak for Anne, especially since she is no longer commenting on comments about her comments, but to some extent, the way I read “I don’t care what you think” was at least in part in this sense: There are those situations where we sometimes take a stand based on our own values, and to that extent, sometimes our own choice of conscience matters more than others’ opinions of us. We may not agree on anonymous discussion and where the black/white or grey are related to libel or threats, but “I don’t care what you think” is always an option, not necessarily meant as an insult or to be uncaring.

    (Hey, contact me if you still want to borrow that movie….)
    (Now that’s thread drift….)

    April 7, 2008
  88. Maybe I can straighten this out for you all. Where I come from and where Anne comes from not too far away from where I come from, when we say,
    “I don’t care.” it means we don’t care if you bring your friend over for dinner…it’s fine…we don’t have a problem with it….good bring ‘er over.

    When other people say, “I don’t care.” it means I don’t care what you do, don’t bother me with it, it’s nothing to me, I want no part of it.

    So what I am saying is that this is one of those, it’s English, but it’s local
    jargon that differs from county to county or state to state.

    April 7, 2008
  89. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks, Paul and Bright! Nicely said.

    April 7, 2008
  90. Anne Bretts said:

    I do marvel over all this concern about my comments, but the thread topic is so much more interesting….What do you people think about the topic?

    April 7, 2008
  91. kiffi summa said:

    What would the role of the “watchdog” be?
    Why is there a need for “watchdogs” when there are professional reporters?
    What if the newspaper didn’t CARE to follow up the “watchdogs’ tip(S)?
    What if a “watchdog” “watchdogged” the paper?
    Would a reporter be assigned to follow up on a “watchdog” tip, do the investigating , or just write up the concern?
    Would the “watchdog” write a “watchdog” opinion?
    Would the “watchdog” have the same protections that reporters have?
    Would the “watchdog” have access to the legal advice of the News?
    Would the “watchdog” be able to be involved in editorial content discussion?
    Would the “watchdog” join the Reader Advisory Team?
    What would happen when (not if) there were diametrically opposed positions of “watchdogs”?

    I think that’s enough: I have to do my reading for my CVEC class, “The Age of Enlightenment”.

    P.S. It’s not about Northfield; it could be… but it’s not.

    April 7, 2008
  92. Paul Fried said:

    Kiffi: All good questions! Who’s watching the watchers? Nothing like checks and balances, with a large helping of constant vigilance. You and Victor are good wtinesses to that.

    I think Sam’s idea was to get leads, not to have so-called watchdogs do the work independent of the NNews, and not to give them access to the NNews’ lawyer (shared with other small-town newspapers). Self-appointed watchdogs can already write letters to the editor, or comment here or at the NNews site (sometimes anonymously, for good or ill).

    Instead of having folks argue for or against watchdogs, I think it may be more productive (if the thread continues) to discuss how to make them work well and avoid the troubles that occur when it’s abused.

    April 8, 2008
  93. kiffi summa said:

    Just to be clear, which I may not have been when I posted last night…I am certainly NOT against “watchdogs”.

    But I wonder what is the practical outcome or result, and how would the process actually work?

    April 8, 2008
  94. John George said:

    Kiffi- Just tongue in cheek, here, but your post #92 demonstrates something I’ve suspected for a long time- the news media is going to the dogs. I had a watchdog, once. At least he had a lot of tics.

    Concerning Rudolph the Red, that reminds me of a story I heard one time about the couple from Minnesota touring Russia. Their tour guide was named Rudolph, and by the third or fourth day, they were getting to know him pretty well. They were touring Red Square when it started to sleet. The wife exclaimed, “Oh, look! It’s starting to snow!”
    Rudolf replied, “No, that is rain.”
    The wife replied, ” I’m from Minnesota, and I know what snow looks like. It is snow.”
    “No, it is rain.”
    The husband turned to his wife and said, “Stop arguing! Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear!”

    After that one, I’m sure everyone is willing to go back to the thread!

    April 8, 2008
  95. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News publisher Sam Gett comments about Team Watchdog in his column today:

    Team Watchdog (OK, maybe the name needs work) is simply an acknowledgment that our readers possess knowledge and experience that could benefit our investigative reporting efforts. People with skills in accounting, finance, education, public service or other careers are invited to help us analyze data, answer questions and uncover solutions that will ultimately benefit the entire community… Team Watchdog isn’t being organized to just expose corruption, it’s charged with uncovering better solutions to admittedly complex issues facing our community.

    April 9, 2008
  96. Anne Bretts said:

    Well, here’s an interesting coincidence. is having a discussion about comment guidelines, specifically about new guidelines on another site, Jezebel. So you can follow the link to MnSpeak, then follow again to Jezebel, to get some different perspectives.

    April 9, 2008
  97. Holly Cairns said:

    I find Gett’s rewording interesting.

    Thanks for the link, Anne. Fun.

    “First!” And bacon-flavored ice cream?

    Hey, do you people try to read all comments before you comment?

    Do you read the comments from the top down, or from the bottom up? Just wondering.

    April 9, 2008
  98. #96- I call that ‘unpaid consultants’
    #95-JG-doggedly after the true facts, as usual.
    #98-I usually start at the middle and then I jump around until I find one that agrees with my own viewpoint.
    #97-Jezebel? huh, alright I’ll try it for kicks.

    April 9, 2008
  99. I think LoGroNo has to look a different set of guidelines than any other
    type of site because people here actually know each other and vote or
    act in some way that can actually oppose and therefore undermine
    one another’s activity or property or whatever as well as help and assist
    in many ways.

    Although Jezebel has as good of guidelines as any other site might have,
    I don’t care much for the star system. If you are a regular, and eventually,
    when you find a good site for your tastes, you will become one, you can
    star up your own favorite posters. If the Jezebel wants to do that sort of thing in a different area so that others can choose to research, fine, but I don’t like them trying to influence my decision to take certain people seriously and others not.

    April 9, 2008
  100. Tracy Davis said:

    Griff, I’m assuming the reason you linked your post about the white paper entitled “Citizen Journalism and Newspaper Sites” here is because you’re wanting to continue the thread about engaging citizens in contributing to news, how that’s being done here and elsewhere, and what the future might hold. Did I miss any of the angles?

    Here’s an excerpt from the white paper that’s specific to LoGroNo’s collaboration with the RepJ project:

    . . .the end goal is to attract enough paying readers to make the hub self-sustaining, ushering in a new business model for entrepreneurial journalists in the process. Newspapers may stand to gain from underwriting such experiments, given the low cost of entry and the built-in safeguards protecting independence and quality journalism, Witt adds. (emphasis mine)

    Hmmm…. more potential for collaboration between LoGro and the Northfield News? Could be!

    April 9, 2008
  101. John George said:

    Does anyone remember that old Paul Newman movie, “Absence of Malice?” Just food for thought as far as reporters’ responsibilities to the public in general when it comes to investigative reporting.

    April 11, 2008
  102. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News publisher Sam Gett announced a new policy re: anonymous comments in his column yesterday.

    The new policy on still allows readers to post comments without identifying themselves. However, Web site users must first complete a short registration form that includes the submission of a valid e-mail address. This gives us the opportunity to contact posters if we have a question or problem with their comment. Users only need to register once; after that they can freely interact throughout the site.

    April 17, 2008
  103. Anne Bretts said:

    This seems like a great solution, allowing anonymity but guaranteeing a safety net for the publisher.
    Rudolph the Red can write in peace…at least until he looks out his window and sees the car with the surveillance equipment running. Then he’ll know the waterboarding worked and Sam and Jaci have cracked ;-}

    April 18, 2008
  104. Marcea Frazier said:

    Well said Anne.

    The “safety net” is very easy to get around, takes about 2 minutes. I miss reading Rudolph the Red’s comments, hopefully he/she will figure out how to get around the “safety net” soon.

    April 18, 2008
  105. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s paper has the first reference to their Team Watchdog that I’ve noticed:

    People in northern Rice County (where all the county’s ODs occurred) died in 2007 of an overdose at two times the rate they did in Hennepin County and Ramsey County over the same time period. (Verification of the math used to produce this statistic comes courtesy of a statistician serving on the News’ Watchdog Team).

    July 12, 2008