I was explaining our LoGroNo discussion guidelines to RepJ reporter Bonnie Obremski on Sunday. It was on my mind in part because of the Sunday StarTribune commentary by editor Nancy Barnes on their recent experience with opening up comments on their stories. They’ve now shut down comments on some stories and have had to remove over 8,000 comments.
As editors, we struggled to find the right balance. In some ways, it has been educational to us all to see the diatribe and the level of racial and ethnic animosity on certain topics. At the same time, nobody wants to condone that type of discussion. I won’t repeat the comments; suffice it to say that many were simply uncivilized. Even the mechanisms we put in place to strike offensive comments didn’t help that much. “That led us to the uncomfortable position of just turning it off” on stories related to crime and safety, said Will Tacy, our managing editor for online.
This week’s Time magazine has a column by Lev Grossman titled Post Apocolypse.
The horribleness of commenters isn’t really a mystery: Internet anonymity is disinhibiting, and people are basically mean anyway. Nor is it a mystery why the people who run websites put up with commenters: the economic model for Internet content is based on advertising, which means it’s based on traffic volume, and comments mean traffic.
They’re part of the things that make online publishing work. (TIME.com enables comments on its blogs, including mine.) It’s just hard to tell whether they’re ruining the Web faster than they can save it.
Realizing that we’ve got a culture of civility here on LG has made us rethink our policy of only blogging about local issues. I’ve said in the past that there are plenty of places on the internet to discuss issues of state, national, and international relevance. What didn’t occur to me was that there are few places on the internet where one can do this where a culture of civility reigns. And of course, there’s a certain attraction to discussing those issues with friends, neighbors, and fellow local citizens.
The long-running discussions on blog posts Northfielders for Obama, McCain (259 comments since Jan. 27) and Are Northfield area churches waking up to the cognitive revolution? (188 comments since May 28) are evidence that there’s an interest in this. (Very little of those discussions involve Northfield.) And since the way we’ve set up our LG blog allows you to follow (and subscribe to) just those discussions that interest you, there’s no worry about any particular discussion thread dominating.
We’ll test this out over the next few weeks with an occasional blog post on an issue that doesn’t particularly have a local angle. Let us know what you think.