This will be my last column.
Starting next week, I will be relinquishing my responsibilities here as "Interactive Media Editor." I will be going to the Sandusky Register to focus all my attention on developing our Web sites. Feel free to make all the "going over to the dark side" jokes you want I've already heard them all. (The fact that the Register is our sister paper really only intensifies the rivalry, most of the time.)
But I am not leaving the Reflector (not really). I will in fact be working on Web sites for both papers.
The World Wide Web offers an opportunity for newspapers and really for the communities we serve unlike any we have seen in the almost 200 years that the modern newspaper industry has existed.
Over the last 30 years people have been reading their newspapers less and less. They've been consuming news less and less. Electoral roles are dropping. Volunteerism has fallen. People have become ruder to one another.
Seriously, people are ruder. Yes, grandparents have always complained about the rudeness of younger generations, but studies have shown that complaints today are not just nostalgia. People are actually ruder today than 50 years ago.
I am not saying that people are ruder or that they stopped voting because they stopped reading the newspaper. Falling newspaper readership and growing rudeness are symptoms of the same disease.
The disease is isolation. Over the last several years we have become increasingly isolated from one another. We spend more time in our cars, riding to work alone. We spend more time (an astonishing amount of time) in front of our TVs, where even if we are surrounded by family, we are each, effectively, alone.
The danger inherent in this isolation is difficult to overestimate. Name the problem and it can usually be at least partially traced to isolation. Teenage pregnancy and drug-use, for example. Even gang violence.
The decline in newspaper readership may not be the cause of these problems, but we think that we now have the opportunity to do something about it.
The World Wide Web is, unlike the various technological revolutions that have preceded it, both a distribution and a communications medium.
That means that Web sites like ours can be used to bring people together, to undo some of the isolation that people find themselves in today.
A good example is our story comments.
I refer, of course, to the comments that people can leave at the end of our stories online.
These discussions are often rather ugly. There's a lot of name calling.
We've had plenty of angry phone calls even the mayor has come over to tell us she doesn't like the comments.
Frequently, I don't like the comments.
But it's not our job to print only what we like, or to tell people how to act, or to tell people what to think. It's our job to show people what is going on in their communities, plain and simple. The comments do that.
The comments are rude, because, as I said, people are rude.
But you may not be aware of how the comments have changed over the last four months.
They are not nearly as nasty as they were, and when one person writes something nasty now, usually five people jump in and tell them they've crossed the line.
I think that's pretty cool. And it seems like an instance of people becoming less isolated.
It's a small thing, and nothing is going to change over night. But it shows, I hope, that things may change.
However, it also shows that you have to have a strong stomach. You don't get the good effect without the unseemly side of things.
To paraphrase one of the greatest editors of the 20th century, we must simply print (or post) the truth. Unvarnished.
The truth may not be pretty at times, but in the end, it's the only thing we're ever going to agree on.