Viewer anger: What is behind influx of rude and angry comments?

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By Jenny Kuglin KVAL News

I've been noticing a big influx of angry emails and online comments. What's going on? Comments on our stories, or the people in our stories, are often crude and spiteful.

It wasn't always this way.

When I first started working in the news business about a decade ago, I was shocked by some of the mean emails viewers would send the station. I couldn’t believe people would email comments about seemingly silly things like the color of my hair. But, these emails were few and far between, and people also would write in very kind things too.

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to the negative feedback. In fact, I really appreciate it when people comment on our stories -- or our people -- because it gives me a chance to find out what our viewers are thinking.

When someone tells us we are wrong, and we are, I make reporters and anchors go on-air and apologize. If someone asks us a question that I feel other people might have, too, we address it on-air. This is important transparency for a skeptical society.

But I’ve been noticing a fairly disturbing trend lately. People are being mean in greater numbers than I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve also been personally screamed at, called names, and hung up on countless times. So have other members of my staff. I’ve talked to other people in the news business, and they are reporting the same trend.

Here are some recent examples (spelling/grammar/punctuation retained from the originals):

  • Anonymous email to me: "This computer crap is never going to last... Stop talking about your dumb website on TV. I’m turning you off!! Get a life!!"
     
  • Anonymous caller to me on the phone: “I hate the media, and you are the reason women shouldn’t be in charge!”
     
  • Anonymous online comment: "(anchor name deleted) is an anorexic, incompetent, unprofessional, moron and should be fired. period."
     
  • Anonymous online comment: “kval sucks so bad it shouldn’t be on tv. (expletive) kval.”
     
  • Anonymous online comment: "You don't know how to read english you should go back to journalism school, oh wait they wouldn't accept you."
     
  • Anonymous phone call to anchor: "There shouldn't be newscasts with just a woman reading the news.  There should be a man too."
     
  • Email to anchor: "I was wondering why you always dress so frumpy? Im a mother of 3 and I am constantly trying to fight the stereotype that when we as women when we get older we have to be frumpy, and I just dont think you should be helping! You are on TV all the time and I thought youd want to be a leader!"
     
  • Anonymous online comment: "dumb, dumber and dumbest = kezi, kval and kmtr. truly pathetic. BOYCOTT ALL BUSINESSES THAT ADVERTISE ON KVAL - PUT THESE PATHETIC A-HOLES OUT OF BUSINESS. RUN THEM OUT OF TOWN."
     
  • Phone call to me: "(anchor name deleted) is probably an illegal immigrant. Did you even check her papers? No- because you are the liberal media."

So, here are my questions:

Why is everyone so angry? Is it the political climate in our country right now? Does electronic communication allow people to act in ways they wouldn’t face to face? Should we allow online commenting? Let me know what you think -- by posting a comment or sending an e-mail.

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