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Archive for March 11th, 2007

J&C editor discusses user comments

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

Julie Doll, the Journal & Courier executive editor, has an interesting column in today’s paper about user comments on jconline.

The column raises issues that everyone’s aware of, the lack of respect for differing opinions, the obscenity, the namecalling, etc. But I think she’s right in the way she ends it. We don’t have an answer yet, and as this type of user interaction becomes more commonplace, we’re unlikely to have a perfect solution anytime soon, if ever:

Some in the newspaper industry have called on newspapers to apply the same accountability standards to online forums as they do to their newspapers. A fine idea, but it ignores what is common practice on the Web. That is, people are allowed to give their opinions, provide information or otherwise sound off without putting their name to their posts.

Would we place ourselves at a disadvantage by setting stricter standards? Would our readers go to other sites? Or would we only lose those who are creating the problems?

Because community conversation through the Web is still evolving, the answers are a ways off.

But what really interested me on the column, ironically enough (though as Julie pointed out in the daily memo Friday, if I need to say “ironically,” I’m probably better off not using that literary device, but I digress), were the comments on her column. It was a relatively civil discussion by a few users on their thoughts. They’re worth reading at least. I’ll excerpt just the last one because it raises a question we discussed a few weeks back when talking about whether/how to police these chats:

It’s donated space, so freedom of speech is a three tiered question or more. Are we free to say something, does the paper wish to carry that message for us, and will there be consequences for saying it?

I’m not sure what prompted this column, though I suspect it might have something to do with the immediate and humorous (from my perspective) response to a story about a new city flag local high schoolers designed. I know some people were concerned about the impact the comments might have on these kids, who apparently spent several months coming up with this design. Personally, I say get a thicker skin if you let anonymous message board comments bother you. I don’t care if you are 16 or 17 or 90 years old. Criticism is part of life, best to learn that (and how to cope) early.

Just because I thought it humorous, I’m going to excerpt my favorite related comments on the flag story:

First: If the Texas flag got drunk and fell over, this is what it would look like.

The response:: the texas flag has gotten drunk and fallen over several hundred times and it NEVER looked like this!

It does remind me of the Texas flag a little.

That flag story was posted as a mid-day update, and it was kind of fun for us to watch the comments on it grow so that it outpaced the other most commented on story from that day’s paper. I think we (and I say we meaning the reporters) like to read the comments posted. They can provide story ideas, raise questions we didn’t think of, or just make us laugh, as we did at the drunken flag comments.

In case you’re interested: The J&C publisher has written a few blog posts about the story chat feature. One asking why do chats turn to race? and another about news versus chat. And as far as I can tell, this post was introducing the concept to the readers. (I obviously wasn’t working for the J&C at the time, so I don’t actually know exactly when the feature was added.)