Volunteer committee sought for new Observer forum

The Heights Observer exists to provide information and air issues of interest to anyone who lives and works in Cleveland Heights and University Heights. With a print newspaper, an e-mail newsletter, a website and a collection of blogs, it is missing one vital element: an online forum where people can fluidly discuss topics of their choice.

We initially launched a forum four years ago—when we began publishing the paper. But that forum never achieved the critical mass to take on a life of its own, and participation dwindled. We recently took it offline.

I don't know precisely why the forum failed to fly the way it has in other communities. But when I’ve asked people why they stopped using it, their answers all fall in among the following themes:

Required use of real names: People have said they don’t want to participate if they have to use their real names—specifically, according to a few, if there’s a chance their names can be matched to other personal information, such as an e-mail address.

Incivility: People have said they were driven away by a small number of users who acted like bullies—shouting down others’ opinions, or burying them under long and unrestrained responses.

Authoritarianism: People have said that the small group of volunteers who took responsibility for managing the forum arbitrarily squelched opinions that they didn’t like, and drove away users who didn’t agree with them.

Apathy: Some have said they aren’t interested in discussing the issues.

The medium: Others, after trying it, simply didn’t like the dynamic of online forums and decided not to use it.

FutureHeights believes an open forum is an important part of engaging citizens and serving the community. So we’re going to relaunch the forum sometime this fall.

Before we do that, we are putting together a committee of people to think through the issues, write the policies and establish the terms of use that will allow the next version of the Heights Observer forum to fare better than the first.

If you believe in the importance of open discussion and are interested in joining the committee, please contact me.

To express your opinion privately, e-mail Bob Rosenbaum at bob@therosenbaums.net. To express your opinion as a letter to the editor, register at the Observer Member Center (http://heightsobserver.org/members) and click on “Submit New Story” to contribute your letter.


Bob Rosenbaum

Bob Rosenbaum, chairman of the Observer's editorial advisory committee and FutureHeights board member, writes this column to provide transparency and understanding about the newspaper.

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Volume 4, Issue 8, Posted 12:09 PM, 08.02.2011