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Column

Bridge trolls

In August the New York Times published a story about “opposite jobs.” The premise is simple; enter your current job into the search box, and using data compiled from a variety of sources, the algorithm will instantly spit out your opposite job, the career you’d have if life suddenly turned 180 degrees.

I have to admit, I was fascinated by the application. Last week, I logged onto the website, and I typed my occupation, “writer” into the box. The suggestion that came back; mobile home installer, wasn’t exactly what I’d been looking for, but I’m looking into it.

I wonder if mobile home installers have problems with trolls. Even though they’re mostly out from under the bridge and on the internet these days, trolls are still up to the same old tricks. Even though my math skills aren’t great, I still might be able to put a mobile home together. After all, they’re mostly preassembled at the factory, right?

As a journalist, it’s easy to think about a different career. After all, numerous studies have consistently ranked journalism as one of the most stressful careers. The hours are long, the money is often lousy and sometimes people call you names on the internet.

Last week, a holiday week, was a long one for the staff at the paper. We put the finishing touches on our special section about homelessness, a project we’d all spent long hours on. I also wrote about a new neighborhood watch group that’s been formed in Newton. Initially starting off as a Facebook group, a small group of concerned citizens have started to patrol Newton in an effort to combat what they see as a rising tide of crime.

Following their walk, I interviewed several of the participants, including Jay Durant, who organized the walk. During our conversation, I asked Durant if he was ever afraid to walk the streets of Newton at night, and he told he wasn’t because he carries a gun. As you can imagine, this is something that made it into my story that was published on Monday. Ever since George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin there’s been a lot of folks out there who have concerns about the increasing number of private citizens who are armed.

To be fair, there’s interest on both sides of the coin. A recent post in the Newton Neighborhood Watch group advertising an upcoming concealed carry class generated plenty of interest. In Iowa, it’s pretty easy to legally carry a concealed weapon. Take the class, pass a criminal background check and before you can say “Do you feel lucky today, punk,” you’re armed and ready for action. You don’t even have to fire a gun to pass the class, which means many folks permitted to carry may have never fired a gun in their lives.

As you can imagine, there’s quite a few folks in Newton who aren’t comfortable with this idea. The police department quickly issued a statement discouraging residents from armed patrols and the neighborhood watch folks were besieged with calls from TV news, asking about their “vigilante” group. It didn’t take long for a heated discussion (since deleted) to get underway in the Facebook group. Drew Schumann said “journalists are generally pretty stupid people, who understand one thing, and that is that hyperbole sells.”

Ouch.

As a member of the fourth estate, I don’t get to get down and dirty with folks on Facebook. It just isn’t what we do. What we do is report on the facts. Even though folks like Heather Fox, who manages the Facebook group, might’ve claimed Durant’s words were “misconstrued,” they weren’t. Even Durant admitted himself the quotes were accurate. As a reporter, I don’t make judgments on the stories I report. My job is to gather the information and bring it to the readers so they’re able to draw their own conclusions. My coworkers and I are a lens that reflects the story back to readers.

In the case of Durant, Fox and the others, I imagine their anger is because they didn’t like what they saw in that lens. When that happens, it’s a lot easier to “troll” someone on the internet and call them names. If these folks didn’t agree with what I’d written, why didn’t they contact me? My name, telephone number and email address are printed at the bottom of every story I write. I’m a pretty easy guy to spot, but then I guess it’s easier to take potshots at me on the internet.

Even though I like my job, and I love what I do, I have to wonder sometimes, do people ever call mobile home installers names on the internet?

Contact David Dolmage
at ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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