March 24, 2010

Allow Anonymous Comments?

Story Lab and the Washington Post are taking another look at newspaper comments and asking: Should people who file comments to online stories be required to identify themselves? This follows a post from Story Lab considering the effect of open comment systems on news sources.

I think the answer to the question is yes and no.

Here’s what I’ve said before: I think the time has come to offer different levels of service based on different levels of anonymity.

Such a system rewards openness — a virtue in the online world — and still allows people who want to remain anonymous to spout off as they please.

One last thing: The current Story Lab entry starts off with “We’re all about the First Amendment here at The Washington Post…” Hoo-ray for that. But this is hardly a First Amendment issue. No newspaper owes any citizen a voice. Blocking, editing, moderating, limiting, and banning comments? All of this is well within the rights and ethical responsibilities of a newspaper. None of that has anything to do with the right to free speech or the right to a free press.

March 11, 2010

The Rhetoric of Cable TV News

Mark Lieberman at Language Log beat me to this one (drat!). Here, from The Onion, is some bullshit happening somewhere:


March 4, 2010

Comments and Sources

In the early days of newspaper comment features I was a big fan of open systems that allowed anyone to comment and to comment anonymously. I believed at the time, and still believe, that running an open system is the best way to jump-start discussion and build an online community. But I also believe that newspapers must exercise control.

Exercising control means having an employee read the comments and filter as necessary for such things as obscenity and threats of violence.

Further, I think the time has come to offer different levels of service based on different levels of anonymity. For example, offer a continuum with these poles: total anonymity would come with length and posting restrictions and total openness would come with no restrictions and perhaps even some cool perks.

Story Lab today runs a nice bit of meta-reporting about comment blowback: What if open comment features scare away sources? Here’s the conclusion:

I’m not here to say whether the comment board is a good thing or a bad thing, or what The Post should do about them. That’s the ombudsman’s domain. But like any reporter, I try to protect my sources from any outfall that might result from agreeing to go on the record, even though that’s not always possible. These days, opening up to a reporter sometimes means getting beat up on the web site’s comment boards. Will sources become more reluctant to talk to reporters because they fear what the posters will say about them?

I wrote Sutherland another email asking him about the comments and how they affected him. Did he think we should get rid of them, or better police them?

I didn’t hear back.

It’s time to change the rules of the game. It’s time for newspapers to engage in live moderation. It’s time to offer differing levels of service based upon differing levels of anonymity.

March 2, 2010

Feet On The Ground

No, this isn’t a post about shoe-leather reporting. It’s about numbers of reporters.

Doing good journalism is difficult if a news organization doesn’t have enough reporters to cover the news. We can quibble about “enough” I suppose, but I don’t think I’m making an outrageous claim. I think we’ve seen plenty of examples of what happens when the corporate owners of news organizations cut back in newsrooms in order to bolster the bottom line. I consider it a colossally stupid thing to do given the reason that people buy newspapers in the first place.

We’ve seen the results of this thinking right here in Springfield. The Gannett-owned News-Leader was bleeding reporters like crazy and then trying to publish a useful product with too few feet on the ground. The results were predictably sad.

Now I’m making no claims about the quality of the surviving reporters. Some of them are very good. My beef about the (lack of) quality of the News-Leader has always been with local management and Gannett.

The News-Leader is hiring again. And the good results have been almost instantaneous. If this keeps up, I’ll gladly re-subscribe.

The opinion section is still a huge problem for reasons I’ve discussed before. Very little has changed there. It remains toxic and best avoided by reasonable, civic-minded people of goodwill.

But, let’s not end this on a sour note. I’m very happy with the results (so far) now that there are more reporters covering Springfield.