If this week has proven anything, it’s that there’s no shortage of news in McComb, and there are also plenty of people willing to contribute an opinion about it.
It all stemmed from the city board’s decision Tuesday to rename Pearl River Avenue. The new name will be Black Lives Matter Avenue, and our Facebook page lit up that night when reporter Caleb McCluskey posted the news.
Through Friday afternoon, the post had been offered to 55,000 Facebook users. This produced 2,900 comments, and several of us spent a good bit of time removing the ones with foul language.
My rule for online commentary is, if it includes words or initials that would be bleeped out on TV, it’s no good for our page. I deleted several such posts and wound up banning one guy because all he wrote in each one of his responses was a two-word curse.
The Facebook response to the city’s decision was largely, but not exclusively, along racial lines. Several black people who commented said the city needs to focus more on crime and street resurfacing.
As a matter of fact, the board hired a police officer and a detective at Tuesday’s meeting. So the process of filling open jobs in the department has started.
On Wednesday morning, we posted a picture of the Confederate memorial outside City Hall. Somebody had spray painted BLM, for Black Lives Matter, on it three times.
This one reached nearly 41,000 people and prompted nearly 1,200 comments. The most interesting thing was that several black people were confident that the vandal is not black.
Since then, two black people and one white person have told me the same thing. It would be newsworthy, to put it mildly, if they are right.
By the way, the paint had been removed from the monument by Friday afternoon.
Facebook post No. 3 that got a lot of attention this week was my editorial in Thursday’s paper about changing the street name. While I understand the board’s motivation, I think the change is divisive and will not help McComb address its problems. I would much prefer to see decisions of substance — like hiring the two men for the police department.
Compared to the prior two posts, the reaction to this one was milder. There were plenty of approvals and disapprovals, but on the whole the discussion was more civil than before, and we didn’t remove nearly as many posts for offensive language.
The editorial reached close to 20,000 viewers and produced nearly 700 comments.
I’ve spent a lot of time since Tuesday night moderating comments, and the thought occurs to me that many of the people responding to the stories seem like decent folks.
There were a few occasions when two or three people really got into a heated debate, but they ultimately backed off before things got out of hand.
Facebook is great for reaching a wider audience. I put the editorial on there because I wanted both print and digital readers to see it.
But it is fascinating to see how some topics can get people so fired up. They just spout off the first thing that comes to mind, no matter how rude it is, and post it without thinking.
The lesson from all this is that there’s still a market for local news. That is good for the hometown newspaper, as we are in the very early stages of improving our online content to serve that market along with our print subscribers.
Eventually, the plan is to make our website the go-to place for local news instead of our Facebook page. We don’t make any money when Facebook gets all the attention, but we’ll be able to sell more ads on our website if we can get more people to check it out.
The city board posts this week prove that people want to know what’s going on in Southwest Mississippi. But it’s not just Pearl River Avenue that gets attention.
Our front pages this week were full of fascinating local and statewide stories: The number of coronavirus cases statewide are on a surprising rise. A number of prominent organizations said they support changing the state flag, a development that may be the true shocker of the week.
Locally, the new McComb police chief had some positive things to say at a town hall meeting, and municipal sales taxes did not take the huge hit in April that many expected.
Life is not boring these days. Stick with us as we try to help you make sense of it all.