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Writer's Guidelines and Policy

Banned Words, Censorship

Banning a few words pushes some buttons. Sure the potential for censorship should raise your attention. But this is not about talking about ideas.

It's ironic. I challenged readers to identify a single high traffic progressive site that allows as broad a range of discussion as opednews and all the critics became silent. There isn't one that comes close to our traffic range.

Some people who complained voiced concerns that this was opening a door to worse things. Some people called me names like "good German."

I expected that, because OpEdNEws is a community that loves to tweak the nose of authority, the idea of a hard rule would be hard to take, and create some consternation. I was not to be disappointed.

Much of the criticism was naive. One writer, who'd had one article rejected and another published as a diary, which is, frankly a step down from an article, used his rejection as a justification for an accusation of censorship. I was not tolerant of such whiny nonsense. Every media entity with quality standards and editors uses judgment and guidelines to accept or reject articles. OpEdNews is routinely applauded for being among the most open media sites on the web. We accept and encourage articles from anyone. But we demand quality writing, relevance, timeliness and newsworthiness. And we reject articles for a lot of different reasons... just like any other competent, professional media operation.

But... because of our extraordinary level of openness, because we have a commenting system that anyone can post to, I felt it necessary, after repeated abuses, to set a simple rule that would still allow any writer up to snuff for writing on this site to delve deeply into any subject. SOme complained that they couldn't discuss... some things. I don't buy it. The words that were banned are used far more often by abusers, hiding behind them to spew hate. Any competent writers who want to get a message and idea across will be able to. Period.

All that said, I really did wrestle with this idea for at least a year. And it was not something I enjoyed coming up with. And I did not decide alone. EVery editor, of the 23 who responded to my inquiry on how they felt about it supported the idea. Keep in mind these are unpaid volunteers who have no job to lose. Still, I didn't like making the rule and definitely do not see it as something that will be a permanent one. I think it is a useful exercise to require the use of other language. Serious, well intended writers will have no problem. Hateful, bigoted writers will either slink away into the night or will, forced to use other language, reveal their true ugly colors.

After some time, we'll probably switch to a rule that the words are to be avoided, and that they will be carefully monitored, like language profiling, because they are so frequently abused. We may come up with some software to help editors do this job more easily.

BTW, we did lose a few readers-- about a 15 out of 18 total subscriber cancellations for the day, and had a net loss of six subscribers, not bad for a mailing list of over 10,000. We routinely see 5-30 cancellations a day every day. So the total number of cancellations for the day was insignificant.

I attend and play a leadership role in a church where almost all the members are old hippy or young hippy types-- independent, anti-establishment, free-speech. I think a lot of the readers here fit some of that profile. Others here are libertarian, pro-constitution, free thinkers, and all the other varieties of liberal, progressive
and recovering former right winger. So it was no surprise that there would be a knee jerk reaction to my actual discussion of word banning. But the bottom line is the policy put out, up front, an editorial policy that is already in effect (or more restrictive ones like it) at hundreds or thousands of websites.

Winston Churchill said, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." Well, the bottom line is that OpEdNews is far more open to discussion of ideas than most any other high traffic progressive website, or any high traffic website. I continue to post my challenge. Name one edited media site or blog community with an alexa.com ranking of under 6,000 in USA traffic that allows discussion on as wide a range of issues as OpEdNews. I'd like to learn from them. Until then, I can safely declare that OpEdNEws, even with our new rules, is the most wide open to discussion high traffic site on the web. Frankly, I'd love to hear of other sites that are as open to as wide or wider ranges of discussion. That's good for everyone and maybe we can learn something from them.

Censorship epilogue
IT was a long day and I didn't get much else done besides dealing with the comments and emails in response to the banned words article. This was tough on me. I have pretty thick skin, but I don't like being accused of censorship or being a "good German."

The goal of OpEdNews is not to be a forum where anyone can say anything. The goal is to shine light on news and issues that are neglected by the lamestream media, to enable the people who don't ordinarily have voices to be heard on important issues.
The goal of OpEdNews is not to give access to bigots so they can get more bandwidth for their nasty hate filled message, it is to support democracy, freedom and justice, to protect the earth and the people who are least able to protect themselves. I know we are succeeding. But it takes toughness and strength to stand firm and move towards the vision and mission we have set for ourselves.

Financially, yesterday we had a decent day and we're down to needing $1400 to reach our bill-paying goal for this month. with just today and tomorrow to go. By the way, we've been rejected by some ad middlemen-- assumingly because of our content. And banning four words won't change that. We really do depend upon your financial support to survive. If, after all the fuss over this article, you still support OpEdNEws, and care about it and want it to not only survive, but thrive, today would be a great day to show your support with a financial gesture, whatever you can afford. Donate here to support OpEdNEws.

I'll be posting this newsletter message as a followup to yesterday's article on word banning. If you agree and support our decision, it would be nice to get a comment from you after the article. If you disagree, I also encourage you to voice your opinion, hopefully responding to my challenge to list sites as I described with as wide or wider tolerance for discussion of issues.


rob kall

PS I want to thank, which I can never do too often, the volunteer editors who play an incredibly important role in making OpEdNews what it is today-- a site that so many people love and are proud to be a part of. We're always glad to hear from new volunteers. If you are interested in giving an hour a day or an hour a week or more to OpEdNews, check out our FAQ Volunteer Opportunities at OpEdNews and drop me a note. It would be great to have you as part of the team, making a difference.

PSS An afterthought:

I don't have problems with people who use the words in serious, earnest articles aimed at casting light or healing or causing change for the good. .

But there have been enough bad apples to ruin the word for everyone. I'd like to hear a solution so I don't have to go this extreme route. And I expect that after a period of time-- a few weeks or a few months, the rule will be softened or eliminated. Meanwhile, I see this as a brief experiment to see how it changes the conversation.

There is a need for a forum where supporters of both Israel and Palestine can express their views CIVILLY. I don't know of any high traffic sites that currently even try to allow this, outside of OpEdNEws.  Maybe it's because it is too hard, too mean, too angry. But I'm going to keep on trying. This experiment is one more step on that thorny path.

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