DOVER — Free speech with civility has been essential to our mission for years, and we know how important it is to a healthy democracy.
Newspaper editors across the country have lamented the loss of civility in community forums — especially on social media — in recent years.
What hurts most is that it has driven good people away from community discussions.
What matters most is having safe places where issues can be identified, where ideas can be shared, where common ground can be found.
That speaks to the heart of our mission, the soul of our newspaper and website.
Civility has not been completely lost here.
But we have noticed that it has been swimming against the tide.
That is why we are introducing a new initiative — a civility project — at the Delaware State News and BaytoBayNews.com.
We need to get away from polarization and nurture a welcoming place where people can talk — and listen.
We hope our approach will lead more new voices to our Opinion pages and bring back those who walked away when the shouting seemed unproductive.
We all want to live in a community where we treat each other with civility and respect.
The polarization and the threat of misinformation have made that seem impossible at times. The “echo chambers” of today’s social media pages, talk shows and websites have all contributed.
Dissenting views are not the worry. Rather, it is the lack of respect.
So the challenge for us as gatekeepers is maintaining and nurturing decorum.
Our new Civility Checklist is a start.
There are eight objectives outlined in the checklist. We hope our readers and contributors will embrace the ways in which a respectful, honest and civil dialogue can take place.
Government cannot pass any law that abridges freedom of speech or freedom of the press.
We can, however, set standards for what we publish.
This applies to the Opinion pages of the Delaware State News and to BaytoBayNews.com.
And it extends to the comments sections under stories and opinions at BaytoBayNews.com.
If we accept or reject an opinion, it will have something to do with those checked — or unchecked — boxes.
But instead of rejecting any opinion outright, we would prefer to work with writers to ensure they have a chance to meet the guidelines.
Remember, our approach to the Opinion page is that we want to facilitate the discussion of public issues.
We do not take sides. Our role is to provide the information and perspectives that help you gain a better understanding of issues and allow you to make your own choices.
So how can you help?
Become a Civility Advocate.
Take our Civility Pledge and contribute regularly.
Your letters to the editor, commentaries and thoughtful comments under the stories on our website will be genuinely appreciated.
Additionally, we hope your advocacy leads others to our public forums, and they begin voicing their ideas.
BaytoBayNews.com has places for comments under our stories and opinion pieces. (Scroll to the bottom of this page.)
We partner with a company called World Table for this platform. It requires a reader to create a user account using an email address or a social media account.
If you click on the World Table icon, you can learn more about the organization and see that its values are closely aligned with ours.
We had been allowing comments to be posted and revealed to other readers immediately.
But as part of our new civility initiative, the comments will go into moderation first and then be cleared if they stay within the spirit of the Civility Checklist.
For many years, we have had many excellent contributors to our Opinion sections.
We truly appreciate their loyalty, courtesy and respect.
We hope others will follow their lead, and we hope to recruit them as Civility Advocates.
We welcome your comments on this initiative. And we would welcome the opportunity to speak to community organizations about our plans.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org