By Shereen Siewert, Wausau Pilot & Review publisher
Happy Monday, readers. What a week it’s been.
News about coronavirus dominated headlines over the past several days, and for good reason. Though several readers have been critical of the constant coverage, we believe bringing you the absolute best information we possibly can on this rapidly changing situation is crucial to our mission and to the overall public good of this community. This is not a time for divisive politics or playing the blame game, but rather a time for everyone to come together in what undoubtedly will be some very difficult days ahead.
COVID-19 aside, it’s also the last few weeks of election season and we remain committed to bringing you in-depth coverage of local races. This week, we’ll be sending out our Q&As to candidates in the metro area including the Wausau mayor’s race, city council and school board, among others. As we have in the past, we will ask policy-based questions that go well beyond the “who are you and why are you running” basics. Candidates will be asked identical questions, though the questions will vary from race to race. If you have a question you’d like us to ask, fire away! You can email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration, but you’ll probably want to do it today. After all, these are your communities, your tax dollars, and your candidates. We’re hoping the information we collect and publish will help you make the decision that best fits your values and beliefs when you head to the polls.
Also of note, in my role as host of Route 51 I will moderate a debate between Mayor Robert Mielke and challenger Katie Rosenberg this Friday morning at 10 a.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio (unless COVID-19 scuttles this plan.) Hear it on 930 AM Auburndale/Stevens Point, 91.9 and 101.3 Wausau, 99.1 Stevens Point, 100.9 Marshfield, 90.3 Park Falls, 89.9 Rhinelander/Eagle River, and 89.1 Adams/Wisconsin Rapids. The show will be replayed at 7 p.m. Friday on 90.9 in Wausau and will be available online after the show at www.wpr.org/route51.
We’re also happy to publish letters to the editor, whether it’s about your support for a candidate, your opinion on the coronavirus, or other issues that are on your mind. There’s no word count limit, but you do need to give us your name, city of residence and contact information because we don’t publish anonymous letters. To submit, email email@example.com.
In addition to election coverage, we’re also continuing to work on a story about wastewater contamination and have had some good conversations with Wausau’s public works director, Eric Lindman, to better understand what’s happening. You can expect that story in the next day or two. We’re working on a story about local coronavirus testing. And we’re following up on a tip that we think could turn into a major story in Wausau, but we have some fact-checking to do before we move forward on that.
Speaking of fact checking, one of our most-read features this past week was our report on fake news. The Associated Press puts those out every couple of weeks to help debunk stories that are widely circulated on the internet, but are proven false through an extensive fact-checking process. None of us likes to be taken in by false news stories, but there’s just so much of it out there. It’s astonishing, really. A couple of years ago I taught a class on identifying fake news sources and I can tell you, it’s easy to be deceived. Come to think of it, publishing a story that helps readers decide these things for themselves isn’t a bad idea. I’ll put it on my to-do list.
A note about local news vs. national news, since a couple of you have asked about our policies: We are a hyper local news site. That means we focus on the greater Wausau and Marathon County area. However, we do publish stories from around the state and even a few select national stories that we think our readers will be interested in, based on our analysis of how well each piece is read. But our main focus will always be local. We stay away from national politics for a reason. You have plenty of other places to get that information.
Finally, can we talk about social media? We have a very small staff, and monitoring each one of the hundreds of comments we get daily on Facebook would be a full-time job. We do our best to read through them, answer questions when they’re posed, remove disturbing comments and even suspend or block internet trolls, but if you see something that upsets you, there are two things you can do about it. One, if you think the comment violates Facebook’s community standards (hate speech, threats of violence, defamatory statements) you can and should report the comment directly to Facebook. To the right of each comment, you’ll see three dots. Click on those dots, and you should see an option to “report” the comment by explaining which community standard you believe the comment violates. Facebook then reviews the comment and will remove it and, in some cases, ban the user altogether, and they keep your name out of it, so you don’t have to worry about any retaliation.
The other option you have is to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me which story the comment is on and the name of the commenter and I’ll review it myself. Don’t use Facebook messenger to alert me. Email is always faster. We welcome a robust conversation, but we’re also shocked sometimes at the things people will say on social media to one another. Holy mackerel.
We’ll be working from home for this week and possibly much longer, depending on how the COVID-19 outbreak evolves, so if you’d like to get in touch, the best way to do it right now and for the foreseeable future is by email at email@example.com. For advertising inquiries, email Darren at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a question about our coverage, a suggestion for a story, a tip to share or a concern you’d like addressed in this column next week, be sure to give me a shout. We also have a secure inbox at email@example.com if you have anything sensitive to send over.
Stay safe this week and remember to be kind to one another. These are trying times.