Thursday, September 28, 2023

From the Publisher~Art Hall 1/11/2006

By Rick Racela

Could be a gripe or a type, praise or haze. Starting today, a chance for you to air your views, anonymously, on anything from DYFS to the MUA, from dumps to the Trumps. You name it. It’s Called ‘Spout Off!’”
The article went on to give a phone number to call between the hours of 7 and 9 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays, where “a tape will record your message….If you hear a busy signal, that’s because someone else is Spouting Off.  Wait a minute and try again.” 
At that time, we thought people might want to use this forum to interact with the community, but we had no idea just how much it would be used.  That following week, we reported that “’Spout Off’ had a whale of a first week. This newspaper’s new reader call-in line was swamped on both designated nights…Callers filled the tape and operators took over in a valiant effort to accommodate all the anonymous messages.”
Thus Spout Off began.
The world of technology has exploded in the intervening 16 years, and as technology changed, so did people’s expectations, especially the expectations of the generation of young people who grew up over those years.
So, over the last several years we have been looking for ways to update the forum in order to enable people to communicate with one another using modern tools. The middle of last month the new forum went live on our Web site. 
It enables people not only to post their Spout Offs, but also to respond in real time to the Spout Offs others may have left only moments ago. 
Just as the first Spout Off launch in 1990 met with instant success, this new launch met with even more, far beyond any expectation. My son, Dennis, said of it, “It just blows us away.” 
Of course every change brings a new challenge. While we encourage people to be constructive and use good taste, a few don’t, or they define the terms differently. 
And whereas before, we had an opportunity to see everything before it went to print, now with the new technology, we don’t. 
As with newspapers and the media in general, the Internet is “disintermediating” the news people in the public discourse and exchange of information.  That is to say, people are now talking directly with one another and news people are increasingly being left out. 
This new forum is self policing, with the community setting the standards by their responses. Objectionable material will be deleted. 
Change is difficult, and one Spouter, in particular expressed his / her objections in no uncertain terms. I sympathize; there are occasional abuses.  But, relative to the total amount of dialogue, very few. 
A few complained that they preferred it the way it was. All I can say is, if you’d like it, you can still phone, mail or e-mail Spout Offs as before, or drop them off. And if you don’t want to read replies, just skip down to the next Spout Off. Further, the printed version is just as it always was, and the printed version is posted on the Web site separately, for those who just want to read what was in print. 
If Walter Lippman were right when he wrote: “A good newspaper is a community in conversation with itself,” then the Herald is now a better newspaper: new technologies enable the people to communicate with the community in ways never before possible.
Art Hall, publisher

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