January 16, 2019 10:25:13 AM
Each week, between 40,000 and 50,000 folks turn to The Dispatch's website to read the news. One feature offered online that is not available in the print edition is the ability to leave anonymous comments below each story.
Most readers don't comment on the stories, but there are a small group of online readers who almost always have something to say. They have the right to remain silent, if not the ability.
In our offices, they've become something akin to celebrities -- people using pseudonyms such as "Frank" or "Lowndes Native" or "Raider" or "Gracie" or "Boudreaux." There is also a regular commenter who goes by the name of "Hughlon Thornberry" which may or may not be his actual name.
To us, the identity of these commenters is not important. If anonymity is a condition they feel they need to share their views, we're fine with it.
For those who aren't afraid to put their name on their opinions, we offer the opportunity to write letters to the editor. As it is with the online commenters, there are a small group of people who routinely avail themselves of the opportunity. The two most prodigious letter writers are Cameron Triplett and Lee Roy Lollar.
Taken together, the opinions of the commenters range from one end of the political spectrum to the other and often, the disputes, disagreements and diatribes become so far removed from the content of the stories on which they are commenting on that they become something of a spectator sport. (It wouldn't be abnormal to see our commenters arguing about whether or not Hillary should have been locked up beneath a story on a local non-profit.)
If one letter writer or commentator favors Opinion A, you can be sure that others will swarm to the comment section to denounce Opinion A in the most strenuous language imaginable. No matter the subject, there are distinctly different views.
But something happened over the weekend that we could not have imagined or predicted.
In Sunday's edition, we reported the city of Columbus is considering a plan to replace its street lights with new, energy-saving LED lights, a cost of close to $3 million. Officials believe the savings offered by the conversion justifies the expense.
Naturally, we assumed that opinions on this topic would range from support to bitter objection.
Surprisingly, the consensus among our commenters was favorable. This has never, ever happened as far as we know.
Frank said it was a good idea. So did Cameron. Those who might instinctively object on the grounds that they oppose whatever Frank and Cameron believe on general principal, offered no objection.
Quite frankly, we don't know how to take this.
Some in the office believe it to be a sign of the end times.
Others are nervously waiting to hear what Lee Roy has to say before selling all their earthly possessions and gathering at the Riverwalk for the Rapture.
Some people are reporting that dogs and cats are playing together. There are unconfirmed reports that Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and Lowndes County Board of Supervisors Harry Sanders are planning a beach vacation together.
Someone said they saw Frank smile and that Gracie complimented the President on his suit.
The best guess is that this is some sort of odd combination of time, place and circumstance that has created this phenomenon, sort of like Haley's Comet or a solar eclipse.
No matter the cause, at a time in our country when it seems no one agrees about anything, we can all agree on LED street lights is a welcomed turn of events.
1. Our View: In gubernatorial debates, two out of three is bad DISPATCH EDITORIALS
4. Editorial cartoon for 3-19-19 NATIONAL COLUMNS