Journalism

Newspaper Revises Comment Policy…to Prevent Them

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North Dakota’s Bismarck Tribune announced to its online readers that it is implementing a new comment policy, one in which the majority of stories on its website won’t have comments as an option.

The change, the paper says, follows a problem of remarks that “have been in poor taste and nothing more than personal attacks on either a person or group.”

There are those who are immediately going to cry censorship, working under the very mistaken assumption that their first amendment rights are somehow at risk. (That isn’t the case, of course, because the newspaper’s website is not “public property” like a town square.)

The question is, should newspapers — or any other media for that matter — take such steps when comments get out of control?

Here’s the problem: we live in a society in which people sue at the drop of a hat. Unless a media outlet is willing to stop what it’s doing and check every individual comment that comes in, it can’t fairly moderate everything. And if they decide on their own to delete one particularly vile comment, then where is the line? What is then allowed to get through and what isn’t, and what are they saying by what they do allow to stay? More often than not, it seems, it’s left to the other readers to police their own commenting communities via “flagging” system. But even that isn’t perfect, and if a large segment of commenters are equally angry, snarky people, they’re not going to flag each other’s comments, they’re just going to try to make theirs sting a little more than the last one.

It isn’t just Bismark’s problem. Check out any newspaper anywhere that allows comments and you’ll see mean-spirited vitriol. Check out radio and television websites that post news and allow comments and you’ll find plenty of it there as well.

And don’t even get me started on Facebook and Twitter, where snarkyness is the order of the day, every day.

Is it better to just close the door on comments for everyone?

I don’t think so. I think it’s better to allow them for the people who are intelligent enough to behave like sensible people. I think it’s better to give people who might add perspective or constructive criticism to a report the opportunity to do so. And I think it’s better to stifle those who only want to cause trouble on a case-by-case basis.

We can’t expect everyone to believe the same way or treat others the same way. More’s the pity.

But we can at least allow people who’ll do the right thing that possibility. And we should.

Your Turn:

Do you believe comments should be allowed on media sites, or do you think there’s too much negativity to expect anything productive to come out of doing so?

11 Comments

  1. They probably have no staff left to manage the comments as the newspaper industry has lost 40% of it’s jobs in the past few years. I do like them as long as they are not crazy comments.

    1.  @lisabuben290 There’s no question that newspapers, and even television and radio stations, have lost staff. But in this case, I don’t think most of them ever had someone specifically in place to police those comments: this kind of thing has almost always ended up as a sidebar duty of various web folks. From what I’ve seen, it’s rare when there’s someone in place to police this sort of thing, though it seems like there’d be an obvious need for such moderators.

    2.  @lisabuben290 There’s no question that newspapers, and even television and radio stations, have lost staff. But in this case, I don’t think most of them ever had someone specifically in place to police those comments: this kind of thing has almost always ended up as a sidebar duty of various web folks. From what I’ve seen, it’s rare when there’s someone in place to police this sort of thing, though it seems like there’d be an obvious need for such moderators.

  2. Nope, they should not allow comments.
     
    It bring out as you say, “mean-spirited vitriol.” I think that some newspapers actually like the controversy that the comments bring; it increases page hits and advertising revenue.
     
    Our local newspaper removed most comments from their articles and refers you to the editorial page where you can leave a comment with your name and phone number for verification.

  3. Nope, they should not allow comments.
     
    It bring out as you say, “mean-spirited vitriol.” I think that some newspapers actually like the controversy that the comments bring; it increases page hits and advertising revenue.
     
    Our local newspaper removed most comments from their articles and refers you to the editorial page where you can leave a comment with your name and phone number for verification.

  4. You can’t blame them.  There’s a lot of extra work and very little payoff in many cases.  Most comments are not gems.

  5. yes,  I agree, people should be allowed to comment.  I also agree that the wicked comments need to be removed.  It is a shame that there are so many.   When you find a good comment community, consider it a treasure. 
     
    Someone has to moderate.  If no one is moderating, the door is wide open to the kind of people you mentioned. 

  6. I would not miss the comments. When I go to a news site, I go for the news articles, not the 1,000 replies from idiots commenting on the piece after it.

Comments are closed.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.