Posted by Professor Robin LeBlanc

To Mr. Geiger,

I appreciate the pride with which you report that you have never failed to print a letter to the editor. Perhaps I should have sent my "Silent 1300" letter to the Phi as well. But because I wrote it as a critique of a column printed in the Trident, my hope was to engage the responsible paper.

You express frustration that the dialogue occurring on the Speaking Freely website did not take place on your paper's editorial pages. I understand you as saying, in part, that you would like your paper to foster constructive public discourse. I applaud that ambition. If you are not only receptive to the full variety of views on campus but aggressively seek to represent them in the paper you edit, you will be contributing to efforts to combat the big streak of meanness in W&L's "civil discourse." By taking up your "Bracket" listing as a badge of honor, you are contributing in another way. I certainly hope you continue in all of these efforts.

However, I think you are wrong to characterize the Speaking Freely website as an insufficiently public forum. All members of the W&L community have unlimited access to Speaking Freely- something inevitably untrue of the printed newspapers which are necessarily far fewer in number than our community members. I can't tell you how many times I've looked for a controversial issue I hadn't managed to pick up when it first came out and failed to find it. Moreover, the Speaking Freely website allows for a greater sense of immediacy than a newspaper could. The rich exchange involving your two postings is proof of that.

As I'm sure you'll realize when you think about it, all newspapers now co-exist with an enormous world of bloggers, podcasters, independent website producers, RSS feeds, and the like. Most major newspapers encourage these alternative fora as part of their regular work. Beyond our privileged campus community, we might worry about the limited entry to public fora available to those who do not have access to the internet or command sufficient literacy to make use of it. We might also ask good questions about whether this massive "conversation" is actually enriching human experience? But we certainly can't argue that alternative media endeavors such as Speaking Freely are not taking place "in front of the whole community."


Robin Le Blanc  

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