Protecting Public Discourse Ethics

As a runner, I was drawn to the article, Running more may not help you live longer, (Wilson, 2014)[1] on CNN.com. I’ve run four marathons, 12 half marathons and numerous 5K races, so running is close to my heart. The article outlined the research indicating that moderation is the key to success in exercise.

 

The story was published on April 3, 2014, and apparently the original title was “Running alot may not be so good”. The commentary, which CNN calls “soundoff” had 76 responses, in which the majority ridiculed CNN for not knowing that “alot” is actually spelled “a lot”. CNN then must have changed the title to “Running a lot may not be so good” in response to the commentary. Readers still weren’t satisfied and they responded that this still wasn’t grammatically correct. They suggested changing it to “A lot of running may not be good.” Since the final title is “Running more may not help you live longer,” I surmise that CNN changed the title yet again due to feedback.

 

This is an example of public decision-making. Arnett, Harden Fritz, and Bell say that public discourse requires public accountability. The public accountability is comprised of a diversity of ideas, public decision-making and a public place for communicating (2009, p. 102)[2]. There were certainly many examples of diverse ideas displayed in this public forum. The individuals demonstrated accountability in ensuring the accuracy of the message. Not only did they communicate their opinion, but CNN made decisions based on their feedback. This demonstrates that the public has a dialogic voice. However, I believe that a moderator should have been used to weed out some of the comments. Some of the comments had nothing to do with the post at all. The commenter was using the forum to tout their political views and it did not add to the discussion. I think that a strong moderator could help ensure that the conversation stays on course. However, I can also see how a moderator could be perceived as limiting the discussion if he/she became a gatekeeper for only those comments that promoted the sites political agenda.

 

Retrieved from goldthugsinharmony.tumblr.com

Retrieved from goldthugsinharmony.tumblr.com

Public discourse ethics promotes a variety of opinions and ideas without dictating which one to choose, (Arnett, Harden Fritz, and Bell, 2009)[3]. There were certainly many different opinions shared on this article. Some readers felt as if the study was unclear and unsubstantiated, other readers felt as if the article was on point, while other readers pointed to additional research to extend the knowledge on the subject. The comments seem to be grouped in buckets of those who were distance runners and disagreed with the article, those who abhor exercise and were delighted to see that less activity results in a longer lifespan and those who wanted to critique the grammar. Some of the commentary fell into the scope of “unsubstantiated opinion”. The commenters made claims about  how running enlarges your heart, causes knee pain or makes you live longer and a better person. All of the claims were unsubstantiated.

 

But, what were the voices that were not heard? Kenneth Anderson (2003) was a key player in connecting public responsibility into the larger picture. Anderson stated that it’s important to protect the voice of the unknown and unseen. Not only is it important, but it is part of our commitment to public discourse ethics, (as cited in Arnett, Harden Fritz, and Bell, 2009, p. 105)[4]. The voices that are unknown and unseen in this example are those that don’t have the privilege to choose. The marginalized groups that would fall into this category include, those who are differently abled, disabled, homeless or illiterate. Potentially this could also include people who cannot afford or have accessibility to a computer or Internet. This article largely assumes that one has a choice in the amount of physical actively they engage in. The commenters on the article appear to be comprised of those who also view this as a choice. The voice I don’t hear is that of one who is differently abled. I did not see any comments from one who is physically not able to run, therefore not able to have a decision in whether distance running is good or bad for you. I also do not see comments from those who are differently abled and may not have the ability to express via written commentary if they believe distance running is good or bad. We can protect the public domain when we embrace differences and push back our desire to have banality.

 

Retrieved from thingsweforget.blogspot.com

Retrieved from thingsweforget.blogspot.com

I have to be honest and admit that I find myself feeling disdain towards commentary that seems negative. I respect a good debate and I welcome a diversity of opinions, but what bothers me is the mannerism of the commentary. But, what I realized after reading more about public discourse ethics is that even diversity in approach promotes the “good” of the public arena. Just as the author Susan Cain states in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (2013)[5], the world is better because of the diversity between painters, mathematicians, writers, engineers, introverts and extroverts. Just as there is a place for all of us in society, there is a place for all opinions, styles of expression and viewpoints in the public arena.

 

Found on outblush.com

Found on outblush.com

Have you ever felt upset over commentary that you read on an article? Have you ever commented with your opinion in a public forum?

 

 

 

[1] Wilson, J. (2014, April 3). Running more may not help you live longer. CNN.com. Retrieved from http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2014/04/03/running-more-may-not-help-you-live-longer/?hpt=he_c2

[2]Arnett, B.C., Harden Fritz, J.M.& Bell, L.M. (2009). Communication ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

 

[3]Arnett, B.C., Harden Fritz, J.M.& Bell, L.M. (2009). Communication ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

 

[4]Arnett, B.C., Harden Fritz, J.M.& Bell, L.M. (2009). Communication ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

 

[5] Cain, S. (2013). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown.

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