The world boasts no shortage of internet trolls. Anonymous criticism, partisan blather, all designed to divide and demean members of the community.
Rarely, however, does the anonymous vile of your average online comments section get full page treatment in the printed editorial page of a daily newspaper. For the past two decades, however, the Saturday Orchids and Onions section in the Iron Range’s largest newspaper, the Mesabi Daily News, has afforded just that.
Every Saturday you can read the regurgitated headlines from extremist websites, half-informed haymakers thrown at local officials, sometimes even private citizens, and often vile and discriminatory comments about groups of people within the community. Even our beloved state bird could not escape the wrath of Onions.
Of course, Orchids and Onions is eminently readable, the way riots and car crashes are watchable. Many of the items were just ridiculous comments by professional curmudgeons. I’m half convinced some of them were, in fact, some sort of performance art. For these reasons, the paper kept running it.
Well, all of that may change soon as the newspaper finally acknowledged in an editorial today that these onions have turned:
In recent years, it’s probably fair to say that Orchids & Onions has gotten away from its original intention and turned into something that’s more divisive in the community than conversational. In fact, we’d wager it has killed more potential conversations than it has fostered.
As a newspaper that strives to be informative, factual and interested in what’s best for the community, Orchids & Onions, in its current form, is not working toward that goal.
Recently, leadership at the Mesabi Daily News has been involved with more and more conversations within our ranks and from members of the community, who have addressed issues with us, on how to improve Orchids & Onions.
The prevailing thought line is that something has to change, both for the betterment of the community and to enhance our mission as the news source of the Iron Range.
Among the topics discussed were instituting a word count as with our letters to the editor, clearer guidelines on what sort of submissions will and can be published in terms of content, and perhaps the biggest alteration — a suggestion that keeps coming to the surface — is signed submissions.
Believe me, a handful of Onion regulars will be writing sternly worded anonymous internet comments in response to this news.
As for me, I welcome the news. Orchids and Onions made the Iron Range look terrible by amplifying the voices of the most divisive and cowardly members of our community. Private citizens are protected by the First Amendment and can say what they want, so long as it does not infringe upon the rights and safety of others. Newspapers, however, set editorial guidelines to maintain a civil debate. The rules for a letter to the editor should be the same every day the paper goes to press. Ignoring such rules is a bias toward those who would exploit them.