Editorial: For the love of Flayrah; please keep it furry!
Yesterday, Flayrah published the first article tagged as opinion where the topic's relation to the furry fandom was particularly light. Many might even say non-existent. It was a topic of personal interest to the author, who happens to be the main editor at this site.
In the past, when other furry sites made major decisions or policy changes, Flayrah would report on them, and people would give their opinions. In this tradition, I feel it necessary to examine these articles and why they could have been so poorly received, and consider Flayrah's future.
This article started the controversy: written and published by GreenReaper, it relates to a topic you wouldn't know about only if you found yourself completely off the grid for the last month and a half. It was an opinion on the effects of the healthcare bill passed by the Supreme Court, with Roberts being the deciding vote. GreenReaper's reasons for saying this article is relevant to Flayrah follow; I'll go over them point by point:
The law affects a majority of furries who fall within the age demographic of one of the law's key components.
There was a statistic that this affects 70% of adult furs; however there is a problem with even that figure. The survey sourced is a survey of the fandom whose residents come from various parts of the world and not just America. That and the demographics of Flayrah's readership are more than likely significantly different to those of the rest of the fandom.
But nit-picking on the 70% stat aside: what happens if a fur is in bad terms with their parents? Would their parents keep paying for their child's insurance, or would they kick them off the plan like they did their house? If so, is that fur going to have to pay a penalty/tax if they can't afford to insure themselves? These are some questions that come to mind and are based off of other stories I have heard in this fandom. These are not questions answered by the promoters of this plan, and I haven't heard it yet from the defectors either, but it is a very good question that could impact young adult furs. Sadly, we live in times where kids are dependant on their parents later and later. This law is a sad testament to a truth about this change in our culture. As the old get older, the journey to what is considered 'adulthood' seems to be getting longer to compensate. Where people used to be independent by 18, they're now dependant in to their mid-twenties.
However, this is getting into the law itself instead of the meat of the article; the topic's appropriateness for Flayrah. The thing that got me was the statement about it affecting people from 18-26. I'm sure most people, no matter what age group they fall in, think of themselves as a furry as their identity before their age group on this website. Many furries are also interesting in GLBT community events, so why did we leave Anderson Cooper's coming out announcement? (Note: I did, but on FA because ironically I didn't think it was furry enough for Flayrah.)
Our readers are usually information-technology-savvy – they know how to find out about the healthcare law if they cared to. At this point most Americans have read about the law, particularly the individual mandate. Even if they haven't, they've already formed an opinion on it. The main-stream media with all its money and resources is not going to change these opinions; neither is Flayrah. All it does is deviate from the topic people came here to see.
News organizations/papers promote candidates and political candidates.
This is a good thing? I thought that was the problem with the news these days. I mean the media, particularly political media, is supposed to be watching all politicians and keeping them in line and making sure the people are protected in case government oversight doesn't work. They should be sceptical of all laws, not just the ones the other guy wants to pass. Now, the way we have it is that these organizations are just as partisan as the people in there. They support the ideas of one side to counter the other. However, in doing so these organizations become invested in the success of the decision, even if it turns out not to be in the people's best interest.
It's something I don't like seeing news organizations do at all, so for me it's not a good argument for Flayrah to start doing it. All it guarantees is that if you start posting "Editor supports this political position" you'll have some other furries who oppose it making their own news site; a Fox News to our to Flayrah's MSNBC.
Plus, when a paper does this, it puts those who work for the company who don't agree with the outlet's choice in an uncomfortable position. Those who are otherwise good at what they report on could resign if they feel passionately enough about it.
There is a precedent for non-furry news on Flayrah
The examples provided of these non-fur news articles were of a completely different calibre than this one. They were all 9/11 articles, and a majority talked about making sure furries were safe or animals on rescue teams. The one about convention travel being affected by the attacks is so within the bounds I don't know why it was included. The rest were all mainly factual articles. They were talking about 9/11 as it happened – not in great depth, mind you. Most furs were using them to make sure other furs were okay, not to make a political opinion.
The other example provided dealt with laws of mixing cells of human and non-humans... if mixing animal cells into a human isn't an interesting topic to furries, I don't know what is.
The type of story presented in this article is unprecedented, and caught myself as a user for two years and others that have probably been here since the beginning as a surprise. We have had political opinion articles, but typically it's when a fur or furry group gets caught in the middle of the controversy. Not taking a controversy and putting it into a fandom context because of how we feel about it.
Rabbit being more conservative-minded wrote an counter-article about the ATF scandal in which the Republicans have launched a mostly successful offensive against the White House's mismanagement of a gun-trafficking operation. He, like the previous article, included a paragraph stating that the article was important for the age group that consists of the furry demographic. Of course, GreenReaper had to bite the bullet here and publish it because it was just as furry as his. If he didn't publish, one could rest assured that conservative furries would start an all-out campaign against the website, making it another useless casualty in people's political anger.
Unfortunately, by publishing this, GreenReaper unintentionally had me recall a criticism by Xydexx concerning how he handles neutrality: by allowing both sides to argue when the original source of the argument shouldn't have been presented in the first place. This is especially glaring since the context of this complaint was having WikiFur contain information that Xydexx felt was not in scope of the fandom. This is similar to most of the criticism Flayrah users have for these two articles, and was an especially concerning revelation for me, considering I was probably one of Xydexx's most staunch rivals, who spoke up against persistent criticisms. In essence, I'm surprised he wasn't all over this like squeak on an inflatable; it's the kind of the evidence that he was salivating for.
I was informed on the submission of this article that there was to be a third one. It's more of the same, but instead of a snarky contribution making a separate point, this one is a proper counterpoint. This kind of response to controversial opinions – especially those made by higher level staff – should be expected.
While it is good to see both sides get an article, now with a legitimate counter-article, the one about the ATF scandal now stands out all the more as an oddity. The point of the second article was to show how ridiculous having political articles under the guise of furry was to the function of the site, in it's own snarky and passive-aggressive way. This point was apparently ignored by the fellow on the more right-leaning side of the aisle. In posting this, they accidentally legitimized the very act that Rabbit was so critical of: posting political articles in a place they didn't belong.
Now it seems, once again, I'm setting myself apart from what appears to be a bipartisan agreement by both sides, despite their disagreement on healthcare. They both want to use Flayrah as a place for non-furry discussions. The vocabulary of their articles feels like a cheap fursuit; some fluffy verbiage here and there, but in the end, the story which is definitely human is glaringly showing.
I suspect this article will be buried as the first two have been.
Why am I writing this?
Despite the first two articles having already been extensively down-voted by the readership and outsiders who typically don't vote on articles, I speak because Flayrah is important to me. Before I conclude, I'll review my background, as I think it contains a bit of perspective to dispel that my opinion is simply based upon bias against political discussion.
I typically post non-furry opinion articles on my LiveJournal, and more recently my FA journal. I usually try to create my own talking points that neither party has come up with, just for the fun of it.
I have five ultimate badges on my Google News feed, mostly dealing with Republican politicians as I watched this primary closely. But even for Barack Obama I have a Platinum badge for reading sixty articles tagged with his name at the time of this article. These do not include those read while logged-out, taking a break at work, where I read more then I do at home. In other words, I'm a news junkie in my own way. As much as I try to concentrate on other things: maybe getting into relationships, make a fiction book, sometimes even exercise. I find myself being drawn back to watching the differing opinions as they play out; it gives me other other ideas that I can apply to the real world around me.
That said, reading a political article on Flayrah made me ill. I had to think a long time about why it would cause problems for me on Flayrah if I can read so much about it and converse so freely about it in other mediums, and I came up with an analogy:
Let's say I like whiskey and I like soda. If I really want a soda, I grab a can of Coke out of the fridge and pop it open and take a swig. If the can is filled with whiskey then it's an unpleasant surprise. My brain was prepared for a sweet, carbonated beverage, but the taste buds kick you with a strong and bitter taste. One would probably be so surprised as to do a spit-take. With the Flayrah name I've been wired to expect to see what was going on in the furry or animal community, not read about political topics that are everywhere else.
(As an aside, I comment more on Flayrah then I do on other news sites these days. The furry fandom tends to be very reasonable when talking about things of a controversial nature, even politics. My guess is that they, like myself, were simply unpleasantly surprised by having such a political article on the front page of this site when don't come to it for that.)
Conclusion: Is there a solution?
The problem here is not political. It is, as with most disagreements, a gulf in definition, context, and purpose. Judging by the votes and comments, most furs who come to Flayrah see it as a furry news site. News that pertain to furry works, fandom events, and on a slow day maybe an animal story here and there. GreenReaper and perhaps some others see Flayrah as a news site that has furry contributors.
In the first article I contributed to Flayrah (when FurBuy got angry at Fur Affinity), I commented that a website is like the owner's baby. Well, when you have a baby (or adopt one in this case) sometimes the baby grows up and most of the time the grown up does things you probably didn't intend to raise it to do. If GreenReaper wanted this baby to grow up to be a furry run news site, then the teenager rebelled and decided to be simply a news site about furry things.
One potential way to satisfy both audiences would be to split the feed into two groups, or maybe even two sites or pages; one strictly for furry news, the other for furry perspectives on non-furry news. To do as we did for these three non-fur articles is unfair to the reader and the author. The reader doesn't want it, and so the articles are bound to be negatively-received and voted on accordingly. If we do this split and make a separate page for non-fur news, Lord be with whoever takes up the position of Editor. With how diverse the opinions are in this fandom, they're going to be extremely busy.
I do hope that Flayrah will continue to improve, grow, and be a welcoming place to discuss topics of the day. However, if this new "addition" isn't contained, I worry it will turn from a polyp of political dialogue to a cancer that might undo a good deal of what has been built here.