Editorials

Our opinion? Sound-off served its purpose and needs to end.

The Belleville News-Democrat is ending publication of Sound-off today. After 25 years, the anonymous forum will give way to more letters to the editor.
The Belleville News-Democrat is ending publication of Sound-off today. After 25 years, the anonymous forum will give way to more letters to the editor. bweisenstein@bnd.com

Today may be the last Monday that some elected leaders begin by chugging Mylanta: We're ending Sound-off.

Every Monday for 25 years we've published anonymous reader opinions, with certain politicians being the favorite targets of readers for a good chunk of that. When we started on Nov. 30, 1992, we wrote this: "We admit that we have reservations about the format, which allows people to call anonymously. We require people to sign letters to the Readers' Forum and our philosophy has been that names should be attached to opinions."

Those reservations remained for more than 25 years, and our editorial board regularly debated, defended and decried the Sound-off. During that time we've seen the explosion of social media, where no one — from that old high school acquaintance to our commander-in-chief — is shy about sharing an opinion with their name attached.

The main issue has always been the anonymity. We don't lightly allow anonymous sources in our news stories, so letting anyone say almost anything anonymously always seemed a little hypocritical on our part. Plus if you read our editorial board's opinions, you know that we're big on personal responsibility. Sound-off allows people to duck responsibility for their words, especially when it comes to accuracy.

Letter writers don't always get the facts right, just like our opinions and our reporters sometimes get facts wrong. But when there is a name attached, then there is accountability and an ethical imperative to correct the information.

When someone puts their name to their opinion, you can "consider the source" and its past biases or reliability. That's not the case with Sound-off.

So although it's been an interesting run, today we say farewell to Sound-off. The anonymous opinions we publish today will be the last.

The best function of Sound-off was to hold government accountable, with reports of council members being the first to get their streets repaired, details of financial shenanigans and tips about government waste. Please, continue telling us about those things by calling our news tip line at 618-239-2743. We'll check the facts and responsibly report what we can.

If you disagree with this decision, please let us know with a letter to the editor. The limit is 250 words, and we will publish your name and city — because that's the responsible, accountable way to do it.

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