Do we talk to each other? Or do we just talk over each other, trying to be the loudest voice in the room, or perhaps even worse, online?
Do we listen to another opinion, or just snipe at each other?
These are questions I have been contemplating as I read some of the comments left on stories posted online at Bakersfield.com.
Certainly, some are quite thoughtful (yes, I am making a judgment here) and address the topic of the story at hand. But many just hurl insults, stray from the news presented and, sometimes, don't make much sense at all.
Consider some recent exchanges on stories published just this week.
Here was one set of comments on reporter Quinn Wilson's story, "Wildfire smoke blankets Central Valley with no end in sight," posted online Thursday:
Reader: "C'mon man, just fire up all those wind turbines and blow the smoke out of the valley. That makes as much sense as any thing else liberals have to say."
Another reader: "Literally nobody said anything about being liberal or conservative... and I don’t think smoke and fire have political parties. Find a REAL hobby."
Another reader: "It does sound like NakedDon and Masked Mike2020's FanClub, obviously you didn't do well in 3rd grade reading comprehension."
Business Editor John Cox brought readers up to date on development near Meadows Field with his story, "Amazon unveils distribution center, begins mass hiring," posted online Thursday. This exchange ensued in the comments section:
Reader: "Only problem I can see is where do you find 1000 people from Oildale that aren't dope addicts ???"
Another reader: "It looks more like a ICE detention center."
Yet another reader: "Jeezus...... what a horrible looking place for humans to have to spend a day.......it has Zero Curb appeal.......maybe humanoids will work there some day..."
And another: "Ok I've read the article. There is nothing there about how they plan to keep 1,000 workers free of Covid? Sore subject?"
Do you feel enlightened after reading those comments? Did you hear a new perspective or feel as if you engaged in civil discourse?
Anyone can post comments on our stories online. And very, very few people use their real name. (I applaud those who do, such as local oilman Chad Hathaway and real estate appraiser Gary Crabtree.)
These online comments are unlike letters to the editor that publish in our Opinion section, where we require writers to give their true name, address and phone number, of which the name and city or town of residence are printed.
Writers have to stand behind their letter, so to speak, by providing their name. I think it brings accountability, and more thoughtful comments. I'm not suggesting I agree with them all — I certainly don't, and I don't need to. The purpose of letters and other pieces in the Opinion section is to have a civil debate and allow comment on significant societal issues and current events.
The stories posted to our Facebook page also tend to have more civil, on-topic comments, likely because they have a name attached.
Reader: Is it possible for TBC to devote substantial time to educating readers, with input from the County of Kern Elections Division, as to the voting process?
It would seem, based upon recent letters (Ann Reed today, for one, who seems to think all registered voters are going to be given the opportunity to vote twice), that some readers do not understand the process, or are aware of the verification safeguards. When there is a void of valid information, it is easy to fill that void with misinformation, mistrust, and flat out fallacy.
I would love detailed information about the whole process, from verifying registration to what happens with returned ballots.
I would also love to know about undervoted (I think that’s the term) ballots, ballots that are not completed, meaning that some sections are left blank. I often do not feel knowledgeable enough about some candidates or initiatives to cast a vote. Does that jeopardize or delay the counting of my ballot? Would be nice if there was a “none of the above” option, but there’s not.
— Pamela Wildermuth
Peterson: Pamela, you pose excellent questions, as did another person who wrote to me Friday morning.
For starters, the Kern County Elections Division has a nine-minute video on voting by mail that you can find at kernvote.com.
But we'll work on gathering answers to your questions — and rolling out robust local election coverage — in the coming weeks.