Editor retires, says ‘life is too short to put up with all the noise’ from commenters

Grand Forks Herald | Bismarck Tribune | Bismarck Tribune
John Irby, who is retiring today as Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune editor, told his paper in late August that “I fairly enjoyed it, overall.” The 61-year-old newsman was more open about his departure in a column published days later: “I am retiring because I am tired of being the whipping boy, by one and all. My skin has thinned. Life is too short to put up with all the noise.” He says he’s not opposed to online comments, but he wants controls to encourage civil discourse. “There’s less tolerance for alternative points of view and that’s what journalism has always been about — about presenting as many different voices as possible. It’s increasingly hard to do that in journalism without getting attacked.” He writes in his farewell column:

Over the years, I have developed a thick skin and defended the First Amendment and freedom of speech. The only censorship I have personally practiced with readers has been libelous statements. As editor, I have supported – and agreed with – other institutional concerns as established by greater employer powers that be. …

There are no absolute First Amendment or freedom of speech protections for people making online comments. But I will never be able to convince those who disagree, so how about trying to digest this: The old days have passed. Editors are not in charge of, or responsible for, everything.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/sandiegoscribe Bradley Fikes

    How true:
    Bismarck Tribune Editor: I’m Retiring Because Bloggers And Commenters Are Mean

    “Rather, I think Irby’s problem is the control. Where once reporters
    and editors could kill stories they didn’t like, and smother
    inconvenient letters to the editor, now readers can simply go around
    them to blogs and social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. The
    media world is more competitive. I think we, the consumers of
    news and information, are the better for it but clearly the former
    gatekeepers in the old media disagree.

    “If Irby can’t hack it in this brave new world of journalism, then he’s right to seek retirement or another career.”

  • http://profiles.google.com/sandiegoscribe Bradley Fikes

    How true:
    Bismarck Tribune Editor: I’m Retiring Because Bloggers And Commenters Are Mean

    “Rather, I think Irby’s problem is the control. Where once reporters
    and editors could kill stories they didn’t like, and smother
    inconvenient letters to the editor, now readers can simply go around
    them to blogs and social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. The
    media world is more competitive. I think we, the consumers of
    news and information, are the better for it but clearly the former
    gatekeepers in the old media disagree.

    “If Irby can’t hack it in this brave new world of journalism, then he’s right to seek retirement or another career.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/bradleyfikes Bradley J. Fikes

    My initial reaction here was, and still is, to
    wonder (idly, I suppose) how asshole commenters represent the smashing
    of the Gatekeeper Paradigm.

    That’s a perceptive summation of journalist net-cluelessness. While the people formerly known as the audience go elsewhere on the Internet for their news, all traditional journalists can do is complain about “asshole commenters.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504633504 Dan Mitchell

    Thanks for explaining how the Internet has created new channels of communication. I had always thought it the new channels of *advertising* that were doing newspapers in (given the tiny number of competing local news channels that have been created in the past 15 years.) But what do I know? Maybe one day, I’ll be able to join this Net-savvy bunch. 

    I’m pretty sure, though, that I’ve seen lots of jerky comments on non-newspaper sites, too. My initial reaction here was, and still is, to wonder (idly, I suppose) how asshole commenters represent the smashing of the Gatekeeper Paradigm.

    I guess in a more general sense, I’d posit that “newspapers are full of clueless throwbacks,” while in some cases true — and for a certain kind of person, emotionally satisfying to say — isn’t actually the answer to every question that comes up. And that, further, not every technological advance is an unalloyed good. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504633504 Dan Mitchell

    Thanks for explaining how the Internet has created new channels of communication. I had always thought it the new channels of *advertising* that were doing newspapers in (given the tiny number of competing local news channels that have been created in the past 15 years.) But what do I know? Maybe one day, I’ll be able to join this Net-savvy bunch. 

    I’m pretty sure, though, that I’ve seen lots of jerky comments on non-newspaper sites, too. My initial reaction here was, and still is, to wonder (idly, I suppose) how asshole commenters represent the smashing of the Gatekeeper Paradigm.

    I guess in a more general sense, I’d posit that “newspapers are full of clueless throwbacks,” while in some cases true — and for a certain kind of person, emotionally satisfying to say — isn’t actually the answer to every question that comes up. And that, further, not every technological advance is an unalloyed good. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/bradleyfikes Bradley J. Fikes

    Traditional journalists used to be synonymous with gatekeepers. They controlled what the public knew, because of their monopoly of communication. With the rise of the Internet, that monopoly has been destroyed, and with it the gatekeeping role. The public has alternatives, and journalists just have to get used to competing for the trust of a skeptical public.

    I agree that most newspapers are rotten at handling comments. They could learn from blogs, which have been handling this issue for years. But hidebound newspaper editors and executives aren’t known for their net-savvy. They whine about comment management as if none had struggled with it before them. Perhaps the new generation of net-savvy journalists will be competent to do so.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504633504 Dan Mitchell

    It depends on what is meant by “gatekeepers,” but sure. There are still journalists, though, and always will be.

    What this has to do with whether journalists should give platforms to jerks for them to act like jerks, I have no idea. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/bradleyfikes Bradley J. Fikes

    There *are* no gatekeepers anymore. That’s what journalism’s ancien régime can’t grok.

  • http://lincolnparishnewsonline.wordpress.com/ Walter Abbott

    Wow!  Almost the same thing Pope Leo X told Martin Luther.

    “I was taught when I was a young reporter that it’s news when we say it is. I think that’s still true — it’s news when ‘we’ say it is. It’s just who ‘we’ is has changed”

    David Carr (b. 1956), US Journalist.  CNN “Reliable Sources”, Sunday, August 10, 2008.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504633504 Dan Mitchell

    Yeah. The new gatekeepers are the enraged, illiterate guys writing hateful stuff in all caps. News as discussion.

  • Anonymous

    This is a man who obviously cared about his craft, but he also liked the old world when he was the gatekeeper and no one else had a voice or was able to question what a newspaper reports and how they report it.

    His power had been diminished and people don’t like being removed from power. They always protest.

    Rock on commenters. Enjoy the golf course John.