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Keepin it Clean

Bill Ritter's daily take on the news.
January 16, 2013 2:02:32 PM PST
I've spent more time than I could calculate in front of a keyboard. Fifteen years writing for newspapers and magazines, 26 years writing for TV news. I've written on manual and electric typewriters, sluggish computers so old they had the initials PF (for Pebbles Flintstone) written on the back, and computers that are state-of-the-art.

I'm at home with my fingers on a-s-d-f and j-k-l-semicolon, and my thumbs on the space bar.

And so I've embraced ? in no small part because my news organization has embraced ? social media, where writing is king .

On the whole, I've enjoyed the experience. I'm not much into posting things like, "I'm going for coffee now, TTYL," but I do like the exchange of opinions, the empathy for people who've experienced loss, and the immediate notification of breaking news and events.

So how to explain the trend since the Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre of venom being spewed on posts that are supposed to talk about how to curtail this violence?

Smart, articulate people, at least on my Facebook page have taken to vile language and personal attacks against people who share a different opinion.

I like starting a discussion that sparks debate and wildly divergent opinions. I cringe when the discussion devolves into debauchery and denigration.

And that got me thinking about civility and people getting along. And if we can't get along on a uber-simple venue like Facebook, how in the world should we expect our elected officials to be civil and get along in a protocol-drenched place like Washington?

After all, and as we've seen these are no brain surgeons or master statesmen on Capitol Hill; these are people like the rest of America, filled with both goodness and flaws. People, not gods.

Still, I'm now consumed with how to broach the subject of d?tente on Facebook posts. I could stop posting about anything controversial. I could talk just about the weather. Oh?. Wait?. That's not uncontroversial anymore, is it? I could post about sports. No, that wouldn't work either, too many scandals with steroid use and rewarding players for violence. See my dilemma.

The truth is, I don't see myself as a small-talk buy, chit-chatting about nonsense. (Some of you may be disagree with that self-assessment, and I'd love to read your posts!). And so I don't see myself posting nonsense. So what to do.

My only recourse is to beg. Beg. BEG. B-E-G. I'm beggin' ya, please let's be civil on these posts. Besides, it's not just my decision; the folks who run these social media sites don't want four-letter-words, and we're all watching for violations. We are told to delete swear words.

Can't we talk without swearing? I think we can. I'm calling on everyone who posts on social media to think twice make that five times ? before hurling a personal insult or typing a swear word. It doesn't help your argument, and will, I pledge, result in deleting your post if we see it.

More importantly, it dilutes the discussion of what is, usually, a vital issue that needs discussing and debating. I'm just sayin'.

With that as backdrop, on to our 11 p.m. newscast.

We're following the problems for the families of 150,000 New York City students who are looking for new ways to get to school in light of the strike by more than 8,000 school bus drivers. Attendance at schools was pretty much normal, with the exception of special needs students, who were absent in far greater-than-normal numbers. Carolina Leid is on the story for us.

Also at 11, we're keeping a close eye on the hostage situation at the BP plant in Algiers, where terrorists are holding about 40 people, including at least 3 Americans. Late this afternoon, one of the hostages somehow told the French newspaper Le Figaro that the BP compound had been mined and that the militants have rocket-propelled grenades. They are also reportedly requesting food and water for about 60 people, which, if my math is correct, means there may be about 20 terrorists.

And we'll have reaction to Pres. Obama's far-reaching gun control proposals that he today urged Congress to pass. We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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