Don't whine, take real action
"If I hear another person whine one more time about this story, I think I'm going to lose my mind..."
That pretty well sums it up.
It's usually my default response each time I read some of the feedback on the Mountain Home News website. Actually, the words I want to say are ones I can't publish or use in polite company.
But typically, my reaction to these comments involves some aspect of me beating my forehead into the desk. After reading some of the feedback on the website, it's usually less painful.
Truth be told, the folks that oversee the newspaper's online edition have two different lines of thought when it comes to inviting public input. On one side are those that invite people to express their views as an avenue for them to offer their feedback or simply vent.
The other side tends to treat many of these raging commentators like the crazy uncle at the family reunion. You've probably met them yourself. It's the one person everyone else tries to ignore but can't since they make it a point to be the center of every conversation.
So it is with our website. Occasionally, someone offers an interesting anecdote, identifies something we've somehow missed or tips us off on a possible news lead. The rest of the comments usually fall into the usual bout of whining. Then it evolves into something that's far from constructive or even relevant to the topic in hand.
Since joining the newspaper a little over a year ago, I've seen a wide range of these gripe sessions. They've involved everything from folks saying, "I'm right and everyone else is wrong" to "This elected official or government entity is corrupt."
It gets worse from there.
Oddly enough, some media websites actually invite this type of dialogue -- the internet version of the Jerry Springer show.
But are these people right when they lob these verbal grenades at one another? Gee, I wish I knew.
The bottom line is very few of the Mountain Home News' regular "contributors" get away from their computer to do something about what they perceive as egregious issues. They prefer the relative anonymity they receive from the comfort of their computer -- safely shielded from actually discussing these issues face to face -- or having to have the courage to put their name to their opinion, as required for our printed letters to the editor.
Let's take the recent discussions of a proposed water rate hike in Mountain Home. At last count, no less than seven people commented on the story. All of them opposed the possible increase to monthly water fees.
But how many of the individuals that ranted at the story actually attended the city council meeting where the hike was discussed and public comment invited? Here. Let me answer that one.
Zero! Zip! Nada! Zilch!
Only one person provided any public testimony at that meeting, and she wasn't one of those who commented online. To her credit, she made her point without raising her voice, making accusations or slandering people (which in the real world can get you sued by the way). She made her point abundantly clear to the city council, asked them to clarify a few points she didn't fully understand and stepped aside.
With the city council expected to readdress the issue at its meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 13, I'm betting the newspaper's usual online "discussion panel" will pass on this meeting, too. I'm guessing they'll wait until the council makes its vote and the subsequent story appears on our website before they begin their diatribe.
The council meeting isn't an isolated incident. People angry at the "system" (or someone in the system) remained eerily absent at other recent meetings.
For instance, no one provided any feedback during the city's annual budget hearing.
Ditto with the city council's previous discussions in recent months on changes to water rates.
Even with all the coverage and subsequent online discussions regarding changes to the county's comprehensive plan, only five people showed up at Monday's meeting. They were the same five individuals from Hammett who've spent the past two years making their points heard to the county's planning and zoning commission and the county commissioners. The ones repeatedly yelling and screaming about this issue on the website were nowhere to be found.
Truth be told, city and county agencies consider six or seven people a "heavy turnout" for their regularly scheduled meetings. Sometimes, the "public" at these meetings is just one news reporter. Around here, that's often me.
But on the flip side, we tend to get "heavy turnout" every day in the newspaper's banter box or in comments on various stories. The more controversial the issue, the more ranting we receive. However, these comments almost always offer nothing useful or even constructive. Instead, it's become the online equivalent of "armchair quarterbacking" where people claim they can make things better or can do the job better than those we elected for public office.
Well, prove it.
If you believe you can make things better, get involved and see what really happens at these city and county meetings. If you don't understand the issue, ask our elected officials to offer some clarification. Don't like where something is going? Ask the tough questions and be ready to deal with the tough answers.
Otherwise, you really have no right to complain.