We most often use the word community in a geographic context, identifying the sense of shared identity that comes from living in a particular town or region. But we also know that the term has other dimensions, an important one being to refer to groups of people with a particular shared interest. Facebook and other social media sites do much to encourage both kinds of community, and the Daily Herald is drawing on their strengths to advance our mission as a local newspaper.
With pages like Everything Buffalo Grove, Everything Palatine, Everything Schaumburg and, our newest launched today, Everything Arlington Heights, we enable community conversations revolving around specific localities. When news stories break in these towns, or sometimes merely when people think of something interesting their neighbors might want to talk about, lively conversations spring up. Today, I’m especially interested in highlighting the conversations at our editorial board’s Voice of the Suburbs Facebook page. This page is a transformation from our editorial board’s previous Opinion page, which was generally built almost exclusively around each day’s Daily Herald editorial and didn’t attempt to do much more than share our views with people who might find them engaging. We thought we could do more. We thought we could find more ways for people who like to be engaged in stimulating topics to speak with each other and with us. So, we renamed the page to Voice of the Suburbs and embarked on a concerted drive to start and encourage productive conversations about issues.
I emphasize the word productive. Given the web’s reputation for online commenting that fosters bullies, cynics, “trolls” and other confrontational complainers, we were, and are, committed to hosting a site that features constructive, respectful discussions, one that accommodates and welcomes passionate expressions of belief but shuns sarcasm, insults and name calling. I’m very pleased to report that so far, this overwhelmingly has been the tenor of the conversations that have emerged at this page.
In a particular case in point, a thought-provoking discussion developed last week when we posted our editorial calling for competitive bidding on contracts like a $157 million Illinois Tollway deal that resulted in some serious conflict-of-interest questions. Some engineers and other parties disagreed with our view, and their knowledgeable reactions led to a lively and informative exchange of ideas and questions. We weren’t necessarily swayed from our original point, but we certainly were stirred to consider our position more deeply — and hopefully, some points we made in the interchange raised similar challenges for other commenters. That, to me, is precisely the goal of effective discussion.
We strive for these kinds of conversations in all the ways in which we promote community through our Facebook presence — including at our basic Daily Herald page. If this is your goal, too, I hope you’ll join us and hundreds of others who are finding ways to share our passions, our interests and our ideas to make not just our community but our world a little bit better place.
Jim Slusher, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a deputy managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jim.slusher1 and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.