In Case You Were Wondering…

My friend and Waban Area Council colleague Sallee Lipshutz asked me some questions about Newton Forum.org that I sense others might be wondering about as well.  I’ve also noticed some assertions about NewtonForum.org on another blog that are simply untrue. So I thought I would write this post to set things straight:

Is NewtonForum.org an NVA blog?
I don’t know why some people on another blog insist on referring to NewtonForum.org as an NVA blog.  It most certainly is not.  There are four people out of the 33 thus-far-recruited NewtonForum.org writers who have identified themselves as NVA members.  I asked them to write, not because they are NVA members, but because they are interesting writers.  That’s the same reason I asked Sallee to write for NewtonForum.org, and it’s the same reason every other contributing writer here was invited to write – because each is a talented writer with interesting things to say.

Sallee would like to see more people commenting in dissent…

So would I.  I would like to see more people commenting here, period.  I launched this blog in March, and some two months later, we have more than 200 registered users.  I’m very proud of that, but I want more people, of all points of view, to find out about NewtonForum.org and comment here. Some people on another blog have said that NewtonForum.org users all seem to agree with each other.  I don’t think that’s true, but they are civil and polite to each other, and that may be unfamiliar to those accustomed to the bickering and sniping on other blogs.  I’m interested in ideas, constructive conversations and grown-up debates, not snark and zingers.  I’m not an ex-journalist and I am not trying to, nor do I have the skills to, make this blog a breaking news destination.  This is a place for discussion of news, policy and ideas. Others have complained that the pro-high-density development viewpoint is not represented by NewtonForum.org writers, and that’s probably true, and may be for awhile.  The pro-high-density-development viewpoint is the dominant narrative of the ruling political elite in Newton and well represented in almost every document coming out of City Hall, in the Globe, in Boston-area magazines, and on another local blog.  I created NewtonForum.org to provide a platform for alternatives to the dominant narrative.  I’m grateful that writers from hard-core progressives to conservative Republicans have agreed to write for this blog.  The range of topics covered, and the quality of the writing and the comments has been wonderful, and I expect that will continue as the number of writers and users grows.

Sallee asked, “Can you explain the mechanism used to promote this blog through paid ads?”

Yes, of course.  It’s quite simple.  Anyone can purchase inexpensive ads on Facebook to promote any fb page.  I’m trying to reach Newton residents any way I can to get them to check out NewtonForum.org, and Facebook ads are one way to do that.  I purchased fb promotions for the last 3 posts. I wasn’t trying to promote any specific post in particular, but rather trying to attract visitors to the blog in general.  I have also mentioned the blog on various village Google groups and list-servs, and other NewtonForum.org writers have done that and also mentioned it in columns in the TAB, for which I am grateful.

On another blog, people have complained that their comments were delayed in being approved, that their comments were blocked, or that not-polite comments had been allowed on NewtonForum.org… what’s true?
The choice to monitor and moderate comments versus allowing users to post without moderation is just that – a choice.  While, ideally, every user would follow NewtonForum.org policy and post using his or her real name and only posting comments that adhere to the rules about courtesy and no personal attacks, in reality some people won’t.  So, I set up the system such that the first few times a user comments, the comment will be held until either the writer of the post being commented on, or I, as the site administrator, approve it to be published.  We don’t edit anyone’s comments  and I have only once asked someone if I could “tone it down” before approving his comment.  Because we are all volunteers, with work and families and other responsibilities, sometimes we don’t see comments that are awaiting approval right away.  That happened to Ted Hess-Mahan’s comment over Mother’s Day weekend, when both John Koot, the writer, and I were involved in family festivities, and not looking at the blog.  Therefore, unfortunately, Ted’s comment was slightly delayed, but no slight was intended. However, once a person has had comments approved a few times, his or her comments then get published immediately, without monitoring or moderation.  However, this too has its disadvantages. Over this past Mother’s Day weekend, neither John nor I noticed when an approved user posted a comment that included a scathing personal attack on another user.  When I finally checked in to the blog and saw the comment, I deleted it at once.  I’ve since blocked that person from participating on the site.  Cyber-harassment is illegal in Massachusetts and will not be tolerated on NewtonForum.org.  Finally, I’ve noticed that a couple of people on another blog have each said that they tried to comment on NewtonForum.org and the comment was blocked.  They are mistaken.  One is a registered user and I cannot account for why she had trouble posting her comment. It may be a technological glitch, and I am looking into it.  The other person has not yet set up an account at NewtonForum.org, which is the first step for commenting, but he is most welcome to do so, and I hope he will.  In fact, I hope everyone in Newton will!

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8 Comments on "In Case You Were Wondering…"

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Jerry Reilly

Over there on the-blog-that-must-not-be-named (aka Village14), Greg Reibman posted that he “will no longer refer to NewtonForum as the NVA blog”.

Greg Reibman

Thanks for posting this Chris. I can appreciate how challenging it is to establish and maintain a blog and, really, the more conversations the better for Newton.

I can also appreciate the desire to want a diversity of opinions on Newton Forum. So I’ll make you a deal: You comment occasionally on “that other blog” and I’ll occasionally comment here. That doesn’t mean I won’t, on occasion, poke fun of Newton Forum, but you can do the same too.

Oh and one last thing: we’re not Rumpelstiltskin, you can mention Village 14 by name and your odds for changing straw into gold will remain the same.

Sallee Lipshutz

Thank you ever so much, Chris. As an author on this blog and Village 14, I very much enjoy all the conversations. Your explanations of blog procedure is refreshing and reduces the risks of misunderstandings by readers of both blogs. I have another procedural question: On V14, there is a number at the top of each topic indicating the number of responses to that post. Can you add that feature to this blog? Otherwise, we must sign up for notices of new posts and our e-mails get blog-clogged!

Marti Bowen

Thank you for addressing my comment that was not posted. It definitely followed your commenting rules but did express a different opinion than the poster’s.

Your post seems a bit ambiguous to me. On one hand you agree with Sallee about wanting to see dissenting comments and say you want people with all points of view to comment here. On the other, you say you “created a platform for alternatives to the dominant narrative” of whomever the “political elite” are but the only alternative I see expressed here is one of no development at all.

As for disagreeing with people on V14 who say that “all users agree with each other,” since there are no dissenting viewpoints expressed, they certainly seem to, having nothing to do with being unfamiliar with being civil and polite. In order to have “grown-up debate,” those grown-ups must express differing views.

That other blog, Villiage 14, has provided a lot of unpaid advertisement that brought many people, including me, to your site. There is a lot of relevant, constructive, polite and humourous discussion there. I suggest not lumping its users together as being all the same. A lot of us are quite nice.

Kathleen Kouril Grieser

Hi Marti. I was bothered by the possibility, that could be inferred from your comment, that an earlier attempted comment of yours might not have been published because Chris Pitts declined to approve it for publication. So I just phoned Chris Pitts to ask him. He has his hands full today, as usual, volunteering at a village event in Waban, and he asked me if I would respond to your comment on his behalf, which I am happy to do.

Chris assured me that whatever that earlier comment was that you attempted to contribute, it never made it to the administrator interface where he could approve, modify, hold or reject it. He never saw it. It never arrived at NewtonForum.org – he doesn’t know why, has looked into to it – with no answers, and can only suggest that you re-submit the comment. He apologizes for the fact that your comment never made it to the “inbox”, understands that anyone would find that frustrating, but has no way to remedy the situation, other than to suggest that you submit the comment again. He hopes that you will be understanding that this is a volunteer blog, and that he and the writers are not able to monitor incoming comments continuously, and so sometimes comments will be delayed, but there is no offense intended, and hopefully, none will be taken. He’s very glad you are commenting here, by the way.

Kathleen Kouril Grieser
Hi again, Marti. This time I am replying to your comment to convey my thoughts, not those of Chris. You wrote ‘On the other, you say you “created a platform for alternatives to the dominant narrative” of whomever the “political elite” are but the only alternative I see expressed here is one of no development at all.’ Those who support more more or higher-density residential development should feel free to express those views here. Perhaps we’re not seeing expressions of support because fewer residents support more or higher-density residential development than some of our leaders would have us believe. That is certainly one explanation. Chris, of course, cannot force people to write in support of such development, but those who support it are very welcome to comment accordingly on this blog. You also wrote “since there are no dissenting viewpoints expressed…”, to which I say, I disagree with you. A liberal lion like Peter Harrington and a conservative Republican like Susan Huffman couldn’t be more different in their views. Again, anyone, including those who adhere to what Chris calls the “dominant narrative”, is welcome to comment here. I wouldn’t participate unless that were the case. I’m glad to have a forum where I can have a dialogue with you or with Ted Hess-Mahan, and where I can also be confident that I won’t be the victim of cyber-harassment, which is, by the way, illegal in this state. There are a lot of great, intelligent, polite people who post and comment… Read more »
Marti Bowen
Thank you for the welcome. I stand by my original comment. Yes there are writers who have disparate backgrounds on this blog but they have not written on topics that address their differences or might cause dissent and have not posted comments that have dissenting viewpoints. I have enjoyed many of their posts. Previously those posts on topics that are issue based or could be controversial have no dissenting comments so that is how the impression that everyone agrees with each other could be adopted. I know Chis cannot make people post but because his purpose was to create a platform for alternate views on development, or only one view, it leads one to think other views are not welcome. And there are views that don’t agree with not having development but also don’t believe in rubber stamping every proposal. I know many who read the posts and the comments here but don’t feel comfortable expressing a different viewpoint and don’t feel their viewpoint is “very welcome indeed.” I also know others who have dismissed this blog because it doesn’t invite discussion. And how about the people, like me, who support some proposals after actively participating in making them worth supporting and do not support others, I have never felt welcome here. I agree that there are some commenters on that other blog, really why not just say the name of the blog, Villiage 14, who jump to conclusions, make a lot of people uncomfortable, on every side of issues,… Read more »
Marti Bowen

in Chis’s post he mentioned a registered member who said their comment did not appear and explained that it must have been a technical glitch. That is good enough for me. So I was only thanking him for addressing my concerns in his post. Until his explanation, I had wondered why it had not been posted. Now I don’t.