Last Word is a neighborly discussion

When I’m out speaking to folks around town, I like to say that I’m one of only two people who regularly reads all of the submissions to the Last Word.

While it always gets a few laughs, doing the actual reading is not always an easy or pleasant task.

Many people are afraid and angry about all sorts of things: that Barack Obama is still president, that Hillary Clinton wants to be president, that some people believe there should be more gun control and that there are Syrian refugees who apparently still want to come to the U.S. Did I mention that many people also don’t like the Stryker Building, some of the changes at Colonial Williamsburg or the prospect that Dominion will or will not string power lines across the James River?

It’s a complicated world out there.

One thing I’m finding as I continue to read and edit Last Word is some people are getting lost in their anger, and they’re calling over and over and leaving messages that, strung together, could fill most of the space on a newspaper page. One day last week, we had 11 calls all from the same person with lengthy comments on the San Bernardino shootings and immigration. I’m really not sure those comments add up to anything, and I ended up including one short passage in Last Word.

I understand that one of the roles of the Last Word is venting, but these comments take that to a new level and leave little room for conversation.

And at its heart, Last Word is a community conversation, a place where people can share their concerns on national and world issues, but also brag about a great meal they had at a local restaurant or comment on a local tax increase.

We don’t restrict topics, but when the tone turns caustic and the topics trend away from local ones, you notice and, not surprisingly, have something to say about that, too.

In recent weeks, I’ve received several requests that we have people sign their names to the submissions as a way to improve civility. Some have suggested cutting off discussion of certain topics; while others have simply shared their observations and concerns that some points are being hammered over and over.

So, as we wrap up this year and head into 2016 and what promises to be a non-stop roller coaster of local and national topics to talk about, keep the Last Word and these guidelines in mind:

Limit your comment to about 100 words. Please don’t call 11 times to talk about the same thing; save your time and ours and decide the point you want to make and then make it.

Be civil. I understand you may not like the president or the way people drive on Jamestown Road, but that doesn’t automatically make them stupid.

Embrace the digital world: While we publish the Last Word both Wednesday and Friday in the Gazette, we also publish it Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday online at vagazettte.com, and your comments are just as likely to end up there as they are in print.

Finally, while we do not verify information you send in your Last Word comments, you can’t state as fact things that are obviously wrong.

None of these guidelines is new, it’s the way we’ve been running things for awhile now. They’ve served us well and expect they will continue to do so.

One last thought: when I tell friends who aren’t local about Last Word I describe it as neighbors talking over the fence. While big things like presidential elections are important, so are little things like time spent watching the Christmas Parade. We want to make sure there is always room for both in the Last Word.

I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Bellows is editor of the Virginia Gazette and can be reached at 757-345-2347 or at pbellows@vagazette.com

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