Our culture of cows, colleges, and civil comments: now more options for discussion of state, national, and international issues

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.

time-comments-graphic 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.


  1. I think this is an excellent idea, Griff, as so many state/national/international/galactic/universal issues affect our lives quite directly right here in the town of cows, colleges and contention. Might I be so bold as to suggest one possible topic likely to get both liberal atheistic-leaning agnostic bobos such as myself and the slavering right wingers going (as civilly as possible, of course)? Beyond $4 a gallon gas: How should Northfielders think about sustainable lifestyle and community development choices in an era of $146 a barrel oil, calls for off-shore and ANWR drilling, the near-certainty that such drilling really wouldn’t mean diddly in the long run in terms of either price or global petroleum supply, the slow-motion global economic train wreck, etc?

    One provocative author/social critic/blogger James Howard Kunstler (The Long Emergency, The Geography of Nowhere, World Made by Hand), writes continually along these lines. Two recent posts are particularly germane:     

    From “Where we’re at” 

    Every time I saw a car towing a motorboat this holiday weekend, I wondered what was going through the head of the towee. Did they have a sense that darkness was falling on their careers in motor sports? Did they have an inkling that an oil-and-gas crisis is upon us and just not give a shit? Or were they just going through the motions, following some implacable rote programming induced by, say, forty-odd years of TV addiction and a diet based on corn-syrup byproducts?

    and From “Event horizon

    There’s a particular moment known to all Baby Boomers when Wile E. Coyote, in a rapture of over-reaching, has run past the edge of the mesa and, still licking his chops and rubbing his front paws in anticipation of fricasseed roadrunner, discovers that he is suspended in thin air by nothing more than momentum. Grin becomes chagrin. He turns a nauseating shade of green, and drops, whistling, back to earth thousands of feet below, with a distant, dismal, barely audible thud at the end of his journey. We are Wile E. Coyote Nation.

    Is there anyone in the known universe who thinks that the US financial system is not fifty feet beyond the edge of the mesa of credibility?

    Just a thought. 

    July 14, 2008
  2. The horizon looks dim, but that’s only looking in one direction. There is a lot of other things going on, and while we may be into a restructuring mode,
    all is not lost, we’re just looking for a parking space.

    July 15, 2008

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