here are good things and bad things about a newspaper having its own Web site.
One of the main purposes and benefits of having a Web site is the ability to post breaking news and get it to our readers as it develops. Sharing local news and features about area residents with folks who no longer live in the state or country is another great benefit of the Web site.
But there are side effects to having a Web site as well, the most common being comments posted on stories, columns or blogs. Most of the time, the comments serve a purpose and spark meaningful, albeit anonymous, debate on controversial topics, whether it be local government or politics (although politics can get messy). And while we encourage readers to comment on the stories it's disheartening to see where those comments sometimes lead. There have been many occasions where readers will go after the author for no apparent reason, and that's fine. It's almost expected, especially when we're talking about editorials or columns. Sometimes, it's even laughable. You can attack us, we don't mind. It's when readers start jabbing at each other that it gets old, because it usually gets out of hand.
And it's not just here.
Things got so bad on a site from a small Wisconsin daily recently that the publisher felt it necessary to sneak in a plea for the nasty back-and-forth exchanges to stop. Our question is, why attack each other? Is it because you don't agree with a person's views? If something offends you or you don't agree with a commenter, surely you can find a way to let them know in a civil manner. Yes? No? Many comments border on flat-out immaturity and it's gotten to the point where some commenters, some good ones who post educated, thought-out comments, have flat out stop commenting - not because they're afraid of being cyber-attacked but because they've just become so fed up with the silly tit-for-tat exchange. It's really sad when you think about it - two, sometimes three people going back and forth at each other, calling each other names, berating each other. And they have absolutely no idea who they're "talking" to. For all they know, it could be a friend of theirs.
Everyone has their opinions and everyone's free to express them on our Web site, but for those of you who find it difficult to stay on the issue, try harder. Just because you have freedom of speech doesn't mean you have to stoop to a lower level and abuse it.
Another cool aspect of having a Web site is being interactive with the readers, which is why newspapers and other sites have daily or weekly polls. Back in early February, the Independent published an unofficial online poll asking readers who they think will become Minnesota's next governor.
The results a week after the poll came out showed Marshall Rep. Marty Seifert easily leading the pack at 53 percent out of 781 total votes. A month-and-a-half later, Seifert still sits comfortably in the lead with 53 percent out of 972 votes. R.T. Rybak (17 percent) and Mark Dayton (15 percent) were second and third, respectively, just as they were back in February.
Does that mean Seifert will win? No. And because it's an opinion poll, it also doesn't necessarily mean all those voters want him to; some might support another candidate, but simply think he'll come out on top.