Orchids to Mesabi Daily News for Onion reform

PHOTO: Niklas Hellerstedt, Flickr CC

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.


  1. A welcome change. This will cut the leftists vitriol down big time. They’re only comfortable acting in groups, riots, protests and unions. They’re not much for individualism.

  2. Taylor Johnson says

    Pot meet kettle.

    • Another example, just today:

      “Hundreds of Trump supporters had gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Downtown Berkeley, about two blocks from the UC Berkeley campus, for a “Patriots Day” rally. But they were soon met with many black-clad, face-covered counter-demonstrators waving red-and-black anarchy flags, and clashes ensued. Defend the Bay, a group that advertises itself as against the self-described “alt-right,” suggested protesters bring food to share, along with a mask or other covering to conceal their identity from police”.

      Mob mentality bravery only. These leftists have no guts to show their face…let alone sign their name to a MDN letter to the editor.

      • Richard Ryan says

        Ranger 47, sign your comments with your real name you coward.

        • Here we go, union mob name calling..

          When Aaron levels the playing field on his blog as MDN has done, for all, and you release your tax returns..

          • I have struggled with the question of comments since I started this blog more than ten years ago. My preference would be to implement some method of affirming the identity of commenters. The system I have allows you to self-identify, though early on Bob here and others have adopted “handles” instead of real names. I’ve allowed it. I don’t always like it — and it opens the door for lots of trolling. Bob is a master troll, as shown in his comments above. I’m not even mad about it, because he appears incapable of being anything else.

            There are other comments interfaces I could use — some I’d have to pay for, and others I’d have to hard code into my site. But frankly, my next move — if I changed anything — would be to eliminate comments all together. I might provide for a regular “feedback post” where I share the signed comments of people who e-mail responses to various posts in a given week or month.

            What you see here has been the path of least resistance. I’ve kept it because this is not my full time job, nor is it a particularly profitable side venture. This blog is a passion project, a place where I share ideas and information for Northern Minnesota’s future. I’m honored that people read it and feel passionate about the content — one way or the other. I moderate comments for spam. I reserve the right to delete posts that contain offensive or discriminatory language. I rarely need to do so. If comments ever become a bigger pain in the ass than they are now, they’ll just go away.

            Should I ever run for state or federal office, perish the thought, I’ll be happy to release my tax returns. I think people who seek positions of trust and leadership in our government should reveal their conflicts of interest, something made plain in tax information. It should be a law, but at minimum it is best practice. I follow best practices for journalist here by identifying specific conflicts of interest in the things I write about as I write them.

            Above all, a pleasant evening to all and a happy Easter to those who celebrate.

  3. And a blessed Easter morning to you and your family Aaron…He is risen, He is risen indeed!

  4. “When Aaron levels the playing field on his blog as MDN has done, for all, ”
    You go first, Ranger.

  5. Mike Worcester says

    I’m a regular reader here but a very infrequent commentor. I also pop in at MPR’s News Cut Blog. A bit ago I switched to my real name as I figured if I had to put my name on an lte, I should do it here also. I know there are folks not comfortable with that, but to me, if I cannot put my real name on here and stand by my words, I should not be commenting.

    Which of course has nothing to do with the topic of this post — on that I am glad to see the MDN is looking hard at how it handles anonymous commentary. I’ve lost track of how many papers have ditched their comments feature altogether, with some moving over to their Facebook profiles for that.

  6. David Gray says

    I would be perfectly happy if Aaron requires people to use their real names.

  7. Gray Camp says

    I occasionally post here under the anonymous name Gray Camp. I have chosen an anonymous name not because I am a troll or a coward. I have chosen an anonymous name because I work in the area, and the last thing I want to have happen is to let my personal opinions have a negative affect on my professional career, or my ability to remain employable.

    • I certainly don’t condemn you Gray, but your rational does sound a bit milquetoast, though wisely so.

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