Friday, September 10, 2010

Allergy Season

I wrote the following article more than a year ago, and decided to finally post it after reading Stephen's recent request for civility in the comment section.

During my year as a writer for the Middletown Eye, I've learned something new about myself: I'm allergic to snark.

Snark is that special brand of snide-comment-under-the-breath that has found a new and fertile habitat on the internet. We seem to attract a fair amount of it here in the comments on the Eye, in spite of our efforts to establish a spirit of civic courtesy.

Some days, I start to post about something going on in my little slice of Middletown, and I'm just repelled by the tone of the comments. Are there really so many angry people here? What about the rest of our readers? I know I fall on the "Pollyanna" end of the Middletown Optimism scale, but surely there's more right than wrong in our town. Isn't there?

But maybe I'm doing the same thing as our anonymous commenters. I'm assuming a malicious intent, where maybe there is simply the urge to participate. In that case, let me offer my tried-and-true homeopathic remedies for snark. When you feel yourself about to write an Eye comment that you'd be embarrassed to sign your name to, try one of these:

•Steamed up about something you hate about Middletown? Ask yourself "WWJD", and then fight evil with good by writing a paragraph or two about something that you think is going right in town. Send it to Ed at He'll probably print it!

•Want to share your "inside information" about shady goings-on in town? Instead of adopting a conspiracy-theory tone, stick to whatever credible, first-hand information you can pass on to the other readers of the Eye. Why? Well, the truth is, it will have a lot more credibility if you don't say it in an insulting way. That just makes us think it's sour grapes. Better yet, research and write your own in-depth story on the controversy of your choice. And then sign your name to it.

•Find yourself reading the Eye every day and wanting to make a clever comment on every little thing? You're hired! Just ask Eye Spy. That's how he got his start and now he's got a corner office!

All kidding aside, you may think the Middletown Eye is free, but the truth is, it costs plenty. It just takes social capital instead of greenbacks. The costs of writing the Eye include the willingness of both volunteer writers and the subjects of articles. I think nasty comments hurt our bottom line. But it doesn't have to be this way! If you find yourself having an allergic reaction to someone being snarky in our comments section, then say something nice. It's like money in the bank for this writer.

This doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye to things that need fixing around here -- and I think the Eye has an impressive record of trying to unravel some of Middletown's tangled webs. But I think that most people in public life in Middletown are acting in good faith and deserve some respect. And I don't want the Eye to make Middletown the kind of place where it's easier to take potshots from the sideline than it is to be in the game.

And hopefully, that's the snarkiest thing you'll ever hear me say on this blog.


Piggy's big sister said...

Dear Jen:

I actually consider Middletown Eye an island of calm civility in a raging storm of snark, and do appreciate the energy it takes to keep it that way.

I compare it to blogs like the Middletown Press, which is a haven for hatemongers. People who start at places like MP think that is the standard, not the result of the race to the bottom that inevitably results from an unscreened forum that allows anonymous posts. Yes, there is that bit of Lord of the Flies in all of us, and we count on the civilizing influence of screeners like you and the rest of the eyefolks to keep our better angels on top of things.

So, pop a virtual Claritin, and keep on truckin'.

Jen Alexander said...

Dear P's BS:

Thanks so much for your reply! (does Piggy know you call him/her that?)