By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

School official blasts blogs

You’ve got to see this. John Ritchie, superintendent of the Lincoln-Sudbury school system, tells newly minted high-school graduates that blogs are nasty things, even as he admits that he’s never actually read any. Kids, if you want to succeed, get away from this man as quickly as possible.

To be fair, Ritchie makes a reasonable point about commenters who take advantage of anonymity to launch personal attacks. But he wraps it in so much ignorance and hyperbole that it’s hardly worth mentioning.

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  1. MeTheSheeple

    He’s a bit ignorant, to the point he admits he’ll never look at these “blogs” — he doesn’t even know the terminology. He’s actually _only_ talking about newspaper sites with comment sections that allow anonymous comments — and apparently just the one local newspaper’s site at that.To be fair, I just saw a comment the other day on a newspaper site that effectively advocated genocide. He’s right in praising the kids for doing better than many of their elders.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    MTS: Yeah, and a woman called Rush Limbaugh earlier this week to tell him that Obama is worse than Hitler, because at least Hitler “loved his country.” It’s Ritchie’s focus on the medium rather than the message that makes his little speech worthless.

  3. Sean Roche

    The irony, of course, is that this video was posted on the Newton TAB blog by TAB reporter Chrissie Long.Aren’t commencement speeches supposed to be calls to engage and improve the world, not to ignore it?

  4. Anonymous

    So his message is: If you have an opinion, put your name to it, but don’t research it first?Think he’s just a bit miffed that he came under attack for advocating a Prop. 2 1/2 override that failed miserably?

  5. Anonymous

    So let me get this straight, one can purchase either online or from a retailer print material that is guaranteed to offend a plethora of views based on politics, religion, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation. Some of this is either by book, magazine, or newspaper form. Authors are granted exclusive access in order to convey a certain message, they may have a pen name, or in Joe Klein’s case, they are “Anonymous.” Nobody is screaming to shut down, Barnes and Noble, the paper of record, or a local alternative paper that has some sexually explicit material in the back. So Mr. Ritchie takes the opportunity to use the commencement exercise to disparage one of the most democratic mediums that the internet has ushered in that is open to all and free to all. He is probably paid in the neighborhood of over $200,000.00 + a year, and he admits that he has never read one! In a way I am not surprised, that a school superintendent would dictate what students should not do, rather than educate himself on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the medium. What a pathetic joker, and to use a common “blog” word, he is the quintessential “a**hat.” – Ryan

  6. Don, American

    As always, if you don’t like it, don’t read (or watch) it. That’s what on-off switches are for.

  7. another face at zanzibar

    …and kids shouldn’t listen to those filthy rock and roll records…or wear white after labor day…or use the electric light gizmos…

  8. jhall

    Dan,Don’t know if you’ve been following any of the debate over the schools and override next door to you in Beverly, but if you read the majority of the comments that have been sprouting up on the Salem News over this issue, you might tend to agree. Some are ugly, but more than that it has just been a method for spreading misinformation and ignorance. They are also, unfortunately, highly addictive if its a subject you are deeply involved in. Sometimes you just feel forced to respond to things that probably don’t deserve a response.Here’s just one story’s worth the day after the override got crushed: 560 comments. Nearly every story on the subject for the past 2 months has sprouted a hundred or more comments, all with so much misinformation that you want to scream.'s true that he is not so much talking about blogs (i have been running and actual blog on the subject) but newspaper comment boards. I have heard many in the public call them blogs too, however.

  9. Bellicose Bumpkin

    He has a point that is somewhat lost in poor terminology. What he is really talking about is something akin to an unmoderated forum – not a blog. The comment sections on some of these papers are pretty out of control.I’ve been a vocal casino opponent in Middleboro. The latest tactic by pro-casino people is to launch anonymous nasty comments on these sorts of sites. They are also often posting using my name and the names of others.In the regard Ritchie has a point but his unfamiliarity with technology has him lumping blogs in with other things and ends up just sounding dumb.

  10. great gadfly

    John Ritchie is a good example of bad advice and poor judgment. And, he comes off as very much the snob. How can any one claim to be intelligent in commenting about a medium which he has never read? I pity the kids who have swallowed his rationale…more, I pity those who will have to hire or marry or further educate them.Perhaps Ritchie would approve of Lincoln Sudbury students writing reports on books they have not read. This man’s ego is unbelievable.

  11. Anonymous

    If the principal is going to condemn blogs, he should probably read some of them, first. OTOH, many of them can be pretty nasty and insulting, and if a youngster is going to read them, you have to wonder if they are prepared to distinguish the good from the bad. By good and bad, I don’t just mean what you agree with or disagree with, but quality, source, and truth.

  12. Ari Herzog

    I wonder if the superintendent would repeat his speech after reading The Simple Dollar, ProBlogger, and Universal Hub, let alone Curt Schilling’s 38 Pitches.

  13. Anonymous

    Let me get the facts straight: superintendent looses prop 2 1/2 override, blames blogs, condemns blogs, never read blogs. Wicked Local is clearly the pits on the internet, but maybe if he had a little internet savvy, he could have created a town wide discussion forum to inform, enlighten and educate rather than broadly condemn the medium. Judging from his comments, a town discussion forum seems needed or maybe the override wasn’t justified. You previously blogged about hyperlocal journalism and valuable points were made about the importance of local coverage. The blogs and discussion forums have yet to be appreciated in the declining coverage.

  14. Paul Levy

    I thought his advice was excellent, i.e., suggesting to kids that using anonymity on a public forum to shield your name from comments that unfairly disparage or otherwise harm people should give you a hint that what you are saying probably shouldn’t be said.A bit silly of him, of course, to say that he would never look at such pages. But his underlying theme is a good one: If you offer a public opinion, own it.

  15. Larz

    What gave me a laugh was the name. There is a John Ritchie in Wilmington, ret. football coach, cop, truant officer and high school janitor. About 25 years ago, there was a hazing incident with the football team. One of the local wags called the Globe, and the town was abuzz. Our sports editor went down to ask JR some questions and was given a very bellicose tongue-lashing, complete with a finger in the chest. So Rick wrote a hell of a good column, and quoted JR on everything he said. JR is now about 85, and still goes to the games.— Larz

  16. Kris Olson

    While I’d love to trumpet anonymous online commenting as the triumph of democracy that Anonymous 2:46 EDT thinks it is, being the editor of a suburban weekly like the one the causing L-S superintendent’s “agita” makes me realize this issue is not as simple as telling a certain generation to “get over it and get used to it.”Don’t get me wrong… I still defend the medium (see editorial link below), but I am far more charitable to it than many of my colleagues. In response to this editorial, one of my readers e-mailed me to say he would never say these anonymous commenters should be denied the right to start their own blogs but questioned whether they should be allowed to “piggyback on the paper’s platform and audience to spew their venom and personal attacks.” I think that’s a fair point and one that I will have in the back of my mind as I continue to evaluate the stuff that pops up on my site.

  17. Tim Allik

    Dan, I disagree with the implicaton that Ritchie comes across as ignorant in his speech. The good point that Ritchie makes is that unmoderated, anonymous comment sections on newspaper websites quickly turn into cesspools, and I agree with him on that 100 percent. When Ritchie refers to “these blogs” in his speech, it’s clear (to me at least) that he is talking about the genre of “anything goes” anonymous free-for-all that appears on websites like I don’t know if you’ve ever tracked the comments section of a controversial story there, but I have (the Natick Red Men team mascott controversy, and I was shocked and awed by the level of anger, rage, bravado, and disrespect on display there. It’s easy to be a tough guy from the comfort of your parents’ basement bedroom and behind the anonymity of a fake screen name. It’s also easy to be rude, cruel, bitter, angry, and to be, bottom line, an asshole.You have anonymous comments on Media Nation. I know it’s an issue you’ve grappled with personally, and that you’ve considered banning anonymous posts in the past. Currently, you weed out the ones that don’t provide any value. Newspapers need to embrace the same model that you are using, but on a larger scale. Either that, or they must implement authenticated identification across the board. People sign their names when they write a letter to the editor of a newspaper. In fact, a verified identity is required. Why not on newspaper blogs? No editor is needed using this model. The discussion moderates itself. It’s your neighbor, after all. But if newspaper websites choose the former option and implement moderated comments, they must invest in the process. Much of this work is farmed out to interns and entry level staff. It needs to be given a higher priority.Newspapers and their online entities have a unique opportunity to shape productive and civil discussions about the days’ most relevant and timely issues. I’d like to seem them take better advantage of it.

  18. Sean Roche

    Another disapointing aspect of the speech is what’s missing: thoughts on how to read blog comments, particularly anonymous ones. Don’t they teach critical thinking in the Lincoln-Sudbury schools? Shouldn’t high school graduates be able to evaluate what they read and make good judgments?Of course, to give guidance on how to read blog comments critically, Dr. Ritchie would have had to, you know, read some.So much fear.

  19. Dan Kennedy

    Tim: I agree with everything you say. The problem is that you just analyzed the situation with intelligence, nuance and knowledge — three qualities that were utterly lacking from Ritchie’s uninformed remarks.

  20. Anonymous

    Ritchie lost the override and he is quite upset about it. He lost credibility in Sudbury, he violated open law meetings, and now he is blaming the media because they are showing the excess of the high school. Ritchie uses the mushroom philosophy: Give them sh*t, keep them in the dark and they will grow.

  21. Tim Allik

    And your full name would be … ? 🙂

  22. Ryan Adams

    Dan, his comments were sage. His only mistake was that he didn’t know the difference between comments and blogs. It’s something that’s unfortunately all too common, as I wrote about on my own blog., these town papers *need* to get a hold of their online comments. The blogs have various ways to make sure that anonymous doesn’t mean unaccountable – meritocracy, signing in, etc. – and it’s well past time for the media to join suit.

  23. Dan Kennedy

    Ryan: No. And please understand that I’m not defending either blogs in general or anonymous comments in particular. Rather, I am criticizing Ritchie’s willful ignorance of a particular medium, and his assertion that it is something about that medium that is problematic.Long before blogs, long before there were anonymous comments, many newspapers let readers record anonymous, irresponsible rants, which were published in the paper the next day. Reporters would disdainfully (and accurately) refer to such features as the “Nut Line.”Anonymous letters to the editor appear to be much less common than they used to be, but they were a fact of life at one time.Even today, you can watch talk shows on some public-access cable stations that air anonymous calls of the most irresponsible kind.Just because the kernel of Ritchie’s critique was justified — and it was — doesn’t mean he gets a pass for making totally uninformed remarks.One final observation that might surprise you. I sometimes comment anonymously on the Wicked Local site in my town. I do so because I fear retribution against me, my family, and my kids. Ryan, I think you know that making negative comments about things that are going on in your community is a hell of a lot different from writing that Dick Cheney is a jerk.I try to be as responsible as I would if I were signing my name. But if anonymity were banned, I would not make those comments at all. I would like to think that they’re of some value, though I suspect it’s pretty minimal.BTW, I have no problem with requiring registration and the use of consistent pseudonyms. That would be a big step up from total anonymity.

  24. Rob

    Because the medium of communications change that does not negate the pre-existing laws that surround speech and or thoughts. Do the police not kick down the door of the loon who is threatening a head of state? My point is the mechanisms are in place to address ‘fire in a movie theater’ hyperbole. If things are labials let the mechanics in place address them. The offended parties can exercise their rights with this medium as they can with any other. What is new? Keep in mind that these commenters are also his employers. Aside from the vitriol there are some good points on these “blogs” that he ought to have answers for. Rather then the approach he is taking. Kind of reminds me of the stories my grandparents would tell me when I was a kid. ‘When TV first came out people thought it was a fad’ and it wouldn’t be around long. Still sounds small minded to me today too.

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