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Comments Get Nasty, Newspaper Pulls Plug

This from Editor & Publisher:

When Comments Get Out of Hand, Pulls the Plug

The story begins:

So much for participatory journalism. The Ventura County Star in Ventura, Calif., announced today that it has shut off comments on its Web site because the tone of those comments had grown too vicious and incendiary.

In the beginning, according to John Moore, assistant managing editor for new media and technology at the Star:

Wonderful conversations ensued. Readers began talking with each other, offering opinions, raising the bar of discourse in the county. They were voices we didn’t normally hear from. The comments made many of us a little nervous. They were a little raw for our taste; language and opinions that we don’t normally see in print. But they were real. For awhile.

Soon race began the overriding theme and the comments got nastier and nastier, forcing too much of the paper’s time in moderating the conversation. So for now, it pulled the plug.

Of course, if it built a real community, it might get citizen moderators to help keep the conversation civil.

One Response to “Comments Get Nasty, Newspaper Pulls Plug”

  1. G. Patton Hughes Says:

    This is a shame but I believe the issue was a natural outcome from the way the site was designed.

    When I looked at the Ventura County Star site and saw that they did have a forum in addition to the now defunct ability to comment directly on stories. It is the latter ability that removed according to the article in E&P.

    The forum has fewer than 500 registered users and, available only from a link on the ‘opinion’ page area, is obviously not a heavily promoted feature of the site.

    These ‘forums’ also do not appear to have the same problem as that reported in E&P … i.e. racially charged comments being placed as comments on news stories.

    A review shows these forums have been around since July 2004 and, judging from the discussions I read, are indicative of the quality discussions the editors intially referenced regarding their early experience with the story comments.

    The suspended service, if it is similar to other feedback systems, allows user comments to be collected via a form at the end of each story and those comments are automatically published as an addendum to that story.

    The service was suspended because a small cadre of trolls were frequently posting racially charged posts on many stories. One might surmise that the news stories were selected by trolls, not on the merit of the news, but because the selected story promised to give the hate-spam the greatest audience.

    Bottomline, I suspect those who posted good, insightful commentary on the sites’ message board were responsible for the same laudable commentary in the news stories. The high profile opportunity to post comments to articles, however, was just too juicy for the hate-spamming trolls.

    The appearance of these comments were an embarrassment for the Ventura County Star when published as addendums to their news columns.

    The solution is to make greater use of the message board that already has a good group of users.

    One strategy would be to republish news stories to the existing message board and invite reader comments there. Particularly insightful reader commentary collected in those forum postings then could be added to existing news columns.