Citizen Media Watch

december 20th, 2006

On comments to articles and community building

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

Tucson-based Arizona Daiy Star’s site azstarnet.com has decided to remove the possibility to comment on many of their articles.
Debbie Kornmiller, Readers Advocate, writes:

This is the second time since StarNet launched in 1995 that the Star’s online forum has forced management to rethink allowing online interaction. The last foray, the Community Front Page, was yanked completely in 2000 after attempts to maintain civility failed.

Kornmiller says they hoped for a ”tough but respectful debate”, but got comments that are ”just plain coarse”.

AZstarnet has had a hands off policy, letting the reader community be. But that can also be interpreted by visitors as not caring. Allowing too much is as bad as removing too much. It’s basic community maintenance – making people feel at home.
Now it seems like the problem has spiralled for AZstarnet.

While we added the reader comments feature to give readers a place to talk, StarNet is still our house. And our editors and staff simply do not want guests who make vulgar, abusive, obscene, defamatory and hateful comments. If you want to live in that kind of neighborhood, go create your own online forum.

Abusive comments, fights and name-calling is something we work with continuously at Aftonbladet. In our Forums, we struggle to keep the debate at a good level – not to censor, but not to be sloppy either, or people will take offense.
One important thing, which I think I am not doing enough, is to be visible in the forums yourself. The old problem with commentary to articles (Aftonbladet’s forums are often linked to individual articles) was that online newspapers simply provided the opportunity to comment, but didn’t very much care what anyone was writing – as long as it wasn’t against their rules.
What I try to do as Readers’ Editor is to highlight great postings, to summarize discussions and to bring the readers writing into the articles and sections pages of the site. To show our readers, who are also writers, that their words have bearing.

I can understand AZ starnet’s dilemma at the current situation. It’s a small organization – I’ve visited them – and building community takes time and effort.
AZ Starnet used to be in the forefront of online news sites. Bob Cauthorn (currently working on the launch of CityTools), when he worked there in the 90s, took the initiative to many ground-breaking reader-centered features. I hope this is not a change in the course set by him.
The post by Kornmiller has more than 100 comments, most of them civilized. So there are people in the Tuscon area who are willing to have a serious online discussion. Hopefully, with some advice, they can continue that conversation.

(via Matthew Ingram)


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  1. on december 23rd, 2006 at 6:13 e m

    Thanks for the link, Lotta — I think you are right that having a presence in reader forums and comment areas does make a difference, and it’s something I’m trying to encourage my newspaper (www.globeandmail.com) to do more of.

    Without that, I think readers get a feeling that no one cares or is listening to them, and there is more likelihood that someone will decide to get abusive. I like to compare it a host who invites people to a party, and then decides to leave. Things have a tendency to go downhill when that happens 🙂

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