Sunday, May 22, 2005

Ventura Star shuts down comments

UPDATE: As of Monday 5/23, the paper expects to reopen comments but without the ability to post anonymously. See fresher post above.

It's disappointing to see the Ventura County Star have to shut down the comments on its stories. As the paper explains, the number of comments with profanity, personal attacks and pornographic comments spiraled out of control. A Los Angeles Times story further explains that much of the commentary on some threads was racially oriented.

Howard Owens, the Star's news media director, was just on a panel at the American Copy Editors Society convention with me and Nicole Stockdale of A Capital Idea. As you might imagine, he took some heat for having unedited blogs on the site (the blogs are still there, but the idea of any unedited content is the point here). His response, among other things, was that those were real voices, and sometimes those voices don't read like the King's English.

From my understanding of such things -- which is just enough to be dangerous -- there can be some technical ways to mitigate this comment problem to where it might be possible to reopen it without requiring constant monitoring.

But I'm also afraid what has happened will cause cause some positions to harden further, just at the time the industry must think of new ways to accommodate public input. I hope not.


At 5/22/05, 9:57 AM, Blogger Jon Garfunkel said...

Doug-- yes, there are a few technical strategies one can employ to help. One is requiring people to use real names. Did they do that? A second developing a peer rating system-- which I can't say has successfully been completed yet-- but this would further allow the system to facilitate the social value of shame.

From my experience with the big evangelists of blogging and community journalism, none of them have really invested the time or thought to investigate these problems.

At 5/22/05, 7:58 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Actual names was one of the things I was thinking about, and I've messaged Howard to see what the situation was on that, though IP filtering and the like also came to mind (without my knowing enough about the pros and cons of that).

I noticed a South Carolina paper that had comments has also shut them down. And this is something we certainly will be looking at with the New Voices citizen journalism project in Hartsville.

I do know people in community journalism who have thought about this quite a bit. I think the hope, to some extent, was that people would behave enough so that the issue could be addressed gradually as these project rolled out.

The whole idea of digital journalism raises lots of issues not well-thought-out yet. For instance, as I was looking over the Biker Week project mentioned in a different post and saw some editing problems, it occurred to me that this might be one of the key mindsets we have to adjust -- the paper or newscast is no longer of the moment and we move on. We now must accommodate that things live on in cyberspace for a long time. I don't think we're close to that in most cases. (Even societally. As an example, I learned during a conversation today of a business deal that was canceled when a Google search of one of the principles turned up some questions about credentials. This is probably a good thing, but a major shift in how we have to think about the record of our lives, even from the cradle.)
- Doug


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