A couple of weeks ago, we made a change to our popular Sound-Off column.

The twice-a-week feature where readers are allowed to anonymously submit up to 100 words for publication has been a staple of our Opinion & Comment page for more than two decades.

For the better part of three years, however, the Sound-Off columns have been overrun by comments professing unyielding support or strong disagreement with the president and those on both sides of the aisle in Congress.

In many instances, the submissions to us crossed the line from criticism of either side of the political spectrum and landed into the name-calling arena — or worse.

There's little doubt the negativity feeds into the polarizing debate and partisan divide that we're in. People hear things on the radio or television and want to respond in kind. That's not what we want the column to be about.

There's also little doubt that many of the comments we received on national political issues failed in continuing the dialogue, bringing in a new and insightful opinion or elevated the debate. That's definitely not what we want it to be about.

In fact, some of the submissions to us had gotten so far away from a civil conversation that it reached the point where we stopped publishing unsolicited Sound-Offs for national political purposes.

Since our change, we've had many comments, calls and emails from readers thanking us. I've heard from people who didn't understand why we would give people the ability to hide behind anonymous comments in the first place. Without a name attached to a comment, it's much easier to click send after writing hateful and disparaging remarks.

We've also received a couple comments disagreeing with the change. Most of those center around the idea that the Tribune is quashing political speech.

To that, I like to use a line my grandmother used to say: Hogwash.

We still place a tremendous value on the Sound-Off feature, and we want to give readers the ability to add their voice to the community conversation.

However, we're prioritizing comments on local issues and statewide issues. If we want your anonymous comment on a particular issue happening in Washington, D.C., we'll likely seek it out through our Sunday Issue feature.

As before, we'll continue to monitor the submissions we receive. And to be sure, we won't allow personal attacks, although criticism of local and statewide officials based on facts established in our reporting or other news reports will be considered. If a fact is not well-know or easily verifiable, we're not going to take the time to track it down for an anonymous Sound-Off.

So where does that leave you if you want to express displeasure with President Donald Trump or want to criticize Nancy Pelosi? You still can do that.

I tell people all of the time the best way to get your thoughts on an issue published in the newspaper is via a letter to the editor. In fact, by writing a letter, you have more space (350 words) to get your point across compared to a Sound-Off (100 words) and the freedom to address national or international events. And signing your name to a letter gives more weight and credibility to the opinion.

So what are we looking for?

Send in a compliment or a kudo. Have something funny? Share it. We all could use a laugh to brighten our day. Is there a pothole that PennDOT needs to fix? Tell us.

We want Sound-Offs to remain a community conversation. Help us to keep it a civil one.

Rick Green is editor of The Meadville Tribune. He can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at rgreen@meadvilletribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @RGreenMeadville.

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