Friday, December 10, 2010

Not all comments can be posted

Not every would-be comment offered by online readers is posted on the Oneida Daily Dispatch’s website.
Before a comment appears, it first must be approved, and that job falls to me.
A few angry readers, whose comments could not appear, have called me a censor.
I’m not a censor; I’m an editor.
Here’s the difference: a censor will spike things because he or she disagrees with them. An editor, at least a good one, welcomes a wide variety of opinions because they spark discussion and interest. This hews to the highest ideals of journalism and draws readers (and advertising dollars) to your product.
But editing for online is far different than editing for print:
• Online comments are immediate; some are posted literally minutes after a story appears. In the more leisurely world of print a quick response is one you hear the next day.
• Online comments are anonymous; even when someone does include a name, is this person really who he or she purports to be? We have no way of knowing. Even sites that require registration are easy to fool.
• Online comments can’t be edited. For legal reasons, we cannot edit comments, even for simple spelling. The only choices are to let a comment through or not to let it through; bummer.
So what makes a comment not appear?
Well, for starters, there are these guidelines that appear on our comment form:

We encourage your feedback and dialog. All comments are moderated by the editors. We ask you to follow a few simple guidelines when commenting on stories on oneidadispatch.com.
1) Please post responsibly.
2) Be polite.
3) Don't hate.
4) If you object to someone's post, use the "Report Abuse" button and we'll review it.
5) Users who don't play by the rules will be blocked and won't be allowed to participate.
6) Self-promotion of businesses or advertisements of anything for sale are not permitted.

The “be polite” and “don’t hate” pretty much scuttle any comment that attempts to point out someone’s similarity to Hitler or any other Nazi. It also covers comments that ridicule someone in the story.
And remember, with the “all-or-nothing” editing dictum, a long, thoughtful comment won’t see the light of day if it ends with a nasty insult.
When people are accused of crimes we get lots of comments opining on the person’s guilt or innocence. Legally, we could run these, but we don’t because it’s simply not fair.
Many people have pointed out that other news organizations do things differently. Some allow all comments to immediately go through and only look at them if a reader flags it as abusive.
Here’s why we don’t do it this way: Imagine we do a heartwarming feature story on a high school girl who’s raising money for kids with cancer and some joker (maybe a classmate, maybe an immature adult) calls her a “slut who’s slept with every boy in school.”
Sure, when her dad and grandma read the story, they can flag the comment as inappropriate, and it would be removed; but does that really solve the problem? Does that un-ring the bell? Is it fair? Will people continue to speak to our reporters?
The drawback screening comments before they’re posted, rather than after is that it’s a time commitment. I check the site and approve comments at least six times a day, every day, even when I’m out of town or on vacation. I see it as that important.
Across America newspapers are having problems with their comments and message boards.
At their best they facilitate the free exchange of ideas about community events and ways to solve problems within the community. They can help editors to correct inaccurate or incomplete stories and provide great ideas for new ones.
At their worst, they become snakepits of back-and-forth insults from a few posters who look on anonymous rudeness as some kind of sport or hobby.
So if you find your comment hasn’t appeared after a few hours ask yourself if could be viewed -- even in part -- as criticizing someone as a human being rather than taking issue with an action or idea.
Please try again; we truly do want a wide variety of views on important local issues. The We’re not MSNBC or Fox News trying to push one point of view on our readers. Frankly, if I wanted to be an advocate rather than a journalist, I would’ve gone into PR, which pays much better and has better hours.
And while the our comments truly are anonymous, I am able to see the IP addresses of the posters, so when someone attempts to submit several comments with different screen names, perhaps to make it seem that many people agree, I can tell. I don’t know who it is, but I know it’s the same commenter. Even in these cases, if the comments fit the guidelines, one of them will be allowed through.
I invite your comments:
www.OneidaDispatch.com
www.KurtWanfried.blogspot.com
or follow me on Twitter:
www.twitter.com/OneidaEditor

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kurt- we are all human. To that point, if you happen to feel strongly about an issue and another blogger supports your views, do you give them a "free pass" verses someone who doesnt support your view. Your human too, but regardless of your response, we willl never know.

December 23, 2010 at 4:42 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm very disappointed that you have arbitrarily and capriciously blocked my comments.

None of them are or have been irresponsible, impolite, hateful or promotional of any business.

The most probable reason is that somehow I managed to offend your seemingly biased sensibilities.

Bruce Percival

February 24, 2011 at 6:58 AM 

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