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We received a letter recently from a local mom who was chided by a Republic reader for a speeding infraction.
The woman was criticized in an Onions submission that appeared as part of the daily Around Town column, one of our most popular daily features among readers. Although she was not named, the description of what happened matched a posting the mother had made on her own Facebook page describing the event.
In Onions, people dishing out criticism and those being targeted for it are typically unnamed. Nevertheless, the mother felt attacked.
Soon afterward, she contacted The Republic and noted that the newspaper had just published a front-page story about anti-bullying efforts through the teen-led Spectrum program at Columbus North High School.
“If The Republic is against bullying,” she wrote, “then why do they have an Onions section that allows bullying?”
Since the question ended up in my lap, I’ll take a stab at answering it — for everyone to read.
Bullying, a form of harassment, can have and occasionally does have harmful effects.
Who would be in favor of bullying?
As for Onions, it’s true that The Republic — like many other newspapers — gives readers an open forum to speak their minds. But should all published criticism be considered bullying? I’d say no.
An Associated Press story on online commenting in Thursday’s Republic reiterated that American citizens are legally entitled to express opinions, as long as they don’t knowingly make false statements. If an intentional false statement harms a person’s reputation, that can be considered defamatory.
But Republic editors closely monitor material submitted as Onions to make sure that individual citizens, by name, are not publicly attacked — or bullied. And if we have doubts about the accuracy of an Onion submission, we won’t publish it.
While Orchids — also a part of Around Town — routinely name people who are being thanked or congratulated for doing good deeds, Onions are almost universally anonymous. The only identification I can recall is naming The Republic when it is criticized. If you dish it out and we deserve it, we’ll take it.
A day late, a dollar short
We had an excellent package in last Sunday’s Republic on the Indiana governor’s race. It consumed nearly four pages of newsprint in the main section and focused on Democrat John Gregg and Republican Mike Pence.
It did not include any information from or about Libertarian candidate Rupert Boneham, however.
We reached out to Boneham’s campaign, repeatedly, this past month, but didn’t get a response in time to publish information on the candidate in last Sunday’s edition.
Troy Hill, media director for the Boneham campaign, finally got back to us Monday. He explained that the Indianapolis-based Boneham campaign is being directed by a three-person, all-volunteer staff.
With no paid staffer involved and “just no money for it,” our request for Boneham information fell through the cracks.
Boneham had participated in each of the gubernatorial debates and gets out to see voters from time to time.
When Boneham appeared recently in Brown County, “he probably shook a thousand hands,” Hill said.
But in terms of our preview coverage of the governor’s race, I explained to Hill “that ship has sailed.”
His reply: “Yup.”
Tom Jekel is editor of The Republic. His column appears each Sunday.
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