Civility Counts

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A few weeks ago, we covered a town hall discussion titled “Race, Justice, Community and Policing” at Valparaiso University.

In that discussion, one of the panelists said something provocative.

As journalists, it’s our job to listen and to tell the story that best represents what actually happened. It was important to include that quote in the story. It was her truth, and she said it onstage in a public forum.

However, the part of our job that is always changing is how we represent stories on social networks. With one line of text, how do we express what happened in a night, a month, a life? That is a profoundly new and difficult task.

In this case, we pulled out the quote and put it at the top of our Facebook post, a strategy that we have used previously to engage readers and spur curiosity to read a given story and then discuss it on the page.

And it did start a discussion, which quickly turned ugly and racist. We also later discovered the woman who said it was contacted at work with threats.

That is unacceptable and a result we certainly never intended.

It’s counter to the Community Civility Counts campaign we started in 2015 in partnership with the Gary Chamber of Commerce. We've had great success guiding readers to understand we won’t print letters that are uncivil or anonymous on our Opinion Page. We feel the same about our social media.

This instance spurred a discussion with our web staff on how to best share stories on Facebook. We won’t be taking quotes out of context again.

We also will watch our pages more closely. If we see comments that are clear attacks, use foul or racist language or otherwise engage in uncivil behavior, we will ban the commenter.

We do not host anonymous online comments, so social media is a place for sharing ideas and posting comments. It can and often does work well.

We invite you to join the discussion by visiting and liking our many Facebook pages, including the Civility Counts page. We look forward to having conversations that move the Region forward in a productive way.

Additionally, if you see an inappropriate comment, please bring your concerns to us.

This will be a great topic during conversations at our World Civility Day events, which will be held April 13 at both the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond and Avalon Manor in Merrillville.

We announced details for this last week, and we’ll share more in coming weeks on workshops and activities that will provide networking time and takeaways for visitors.

Last year’s initial World Civility Day sold out at the Majestic Star Casino, as 300 people came from the Region, nine other states and three countries. This year we’ve expanded.

Sponsorships and tickets for World Civility Day events are available through the Gary Chamber of Commerce at 219-885-7407. Tickets are $25 for the afternoon lunch and workshops and $60 for the dinner. Tickets can be obtained by calling the chamber.

We hope to see you there.

Thanks for reading us. Please contact me with any questions about The Times or our many publications.

Bob Heisse is editor of The Times Media Co. He can be reached at (219) 933-3327 or bob.heisse@nwi.com.

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Editor

Bob is editor of The Times Media Co. He started in Northwest Indiana in April 2014 following stints as executive editor of The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., and The Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa.