To our readers: The trouble with online commenting at the ‘Monitor’
Too bad, they were more interesting than the article a lot of times. So on 4/11, late on that Friday, they turned off commenting and I posted about it here (“Concord Monitor: Skip subscribes, starts commenting again; Monitor shuts down commenting“). I guess all of those folks that used to comment will go elsewhere – that’s what happens when “micro-blogging” site faucets get turned off.
Well, they finally decided to ante up their reasons why they shut commenting down – I’ve posted their entire explanation below but it comes down to this:
- You refuse to write the way we want you to
- Not enough people comment and certainly not the ones we want
- Gosh, some commenters wanted to remain anonymous and we don’t like that
- We hated the idea that people are “boisterous” in their opinions and they vary from ours
- The CM really thinks that the only allowable speech is “civil” (unlike what actually occurs in real life)
Pretty much, it was a “our way or no way”. Look, there are times I moderate comments here as well. I also tell trolls when enough is enough. That said, pretty much everything goes as long as people follow Rule #1 – adult themes, kid friendly. A lot of our commenters are very bright, well spoken, and make good arguments. I’m happy when those of the Leftward persuasion come in as well (right, Bruce?). I do believe, as I have said before, that the Union Leader and the Concord Monitor have done a disservice to their readership by NOT allowing them to speak their piece(s) in shutting down their comments – usually, the comment area was more interesting and more enjoyable than the actual piece itself. In this day and age where newspapers are hemorrhaging subscribers and stock prices, you’d think they wouldn’t be saying “let’s drive some of them away!”.
So, now a bit of fisking:
To our readers: The trouble with online commenting at the ‘Monitor’
Each day, we publish letters to the editor from dedicated readers who want to lend their voice to an issue. During campaign season, the letters pile high in our inbox, arriving by email and old-fashioned envelopes faster than we can publish them. Readers around here have a lot to say, and it’s long been part of this paper’s mission to give them the space to say it.
Er, not really because unlike a blogsite such as GraniteGrok is, if the editor said “we don’t have the column inches for 95% of the Letters
Sidenote: used to be that the Laconia Daily Sun’s Letters to the Editor (“LtE”) section was the place folks turned to first. Under the new management, that space has decreased and so has my interest. Decisions have consequences.
so trash the rest”, they trash the rest. Online, however, they could actually allow ALL those voices to be heard. Each and everyone of them.
Our newspaper and the industry in general have always hoped the thoughtful commentary we see in letters would translate to digital, where readers would be able to have a conversation about our stories that would go deeper than we could offer in print. Some website commenters have indeed used the platform in ways that elevate the conversation. But in too many instances, the comments section of our website has fallen below the standards we set in print, and it’s increasingly become a space dominated by a few voices.
Oh please, spare me (and us) the piety. Who did they think they were – the Ivory Tower of academia (yeah, commenters were FAR better than the speech on most campuses today)? Or were they trying for the old style “gentlemens’ clubs” of yore (no, not the stripper places; the old style, genteel, mahogany bookcase laden, easy chair with snifter tables abounding) where only upper crusted old men sat and conversed in shushed tones? Yeah, that passed long ago (in no small effort by other newspapers screaming for “equality” for allowing women in – which then shut them own. See Harvahd’s assault on single sex fraternities and sororities the last few years to get a small taste of that).
The problem is that people HAD to write in a certain style, with a certain tone, and with a word count to even make it onto the CM’s pages. Failing to do so was a complete toss away. They had, in their minds, their target and automatically kicked anyone “out of their club” if they didn’t meet it. Now, not only is the CM protected by the First for Freedom of Speech and of the Press, but also by Free Association. But don’t go all uppity by complaining that you didn’t expect other styles in commenting.
As to that “few voices” – when they decided that only subscribers could comment, well, that shut a lot of people out. Self-selecting their own voices didn’t help their cause. And again, most people, either online or in meat space, just lurk or listen. Like in radio talk shows, the rough number is about only 1% of listenership ever calls in to offer opinions. But I won’t go the way of the soft bigotry of low expectations and assign it to the CM – they may be Left swinging but they’re not all dumb either. They knew what they were getting into.
On Friday afternoon, we suspended the comments section of our website, a decision that was brought on by our inability to easily block fake accounts set up with the sole purpose of undermining the dialogue. In reality, though, the problems with our commenting section have been far broader, and there’s more to it than one bad internet apple. Among the reasons it fell short:
I’m not sure if “babes in the woods”, naive, or CYA is the proper response to that false account schtick. And the “undermining the dialogue” just reinforces the idea that we didn’t get the commenters we thought we would – they all aren’t Lefties like those that actually subscribe!”. And the point by point reasoning doesn’t get much better:
– Like our letters to the editor policy, we sought to make commenting accessible only to those who gave a real name. We did not want it populated by accounts named to hide the writer’s identity. Facebook was the best way to do this, we assumed, because the social media giant and its vast team of developers had a better way to ensure an account’s authenticity than did the editors in our newsroom. We were wrong. The process is too easily sidestepped by those who’d rather spend time making fake accounts than delivering a thoughtful perspective on a local issue. And it forced readers who purposely avoided Facebook onto a platform they don’t trust.
They forget their roots in the pamphleteers of the Revolutionary War that had something to say but didn’t want to be recognized and getting SHOT by by the Royalists at that time. Dissent and treason against the King oft met that “reward”. Of COURSE the King wanted to know who the rabble were – and so does the Monitor Editors. Once again, the best laid plans and all that. And “thoughtful” – sorry, some of the better comments came with snark and funny as all get out in skewing the pompous that were “thoughtful” in their opinions. The translation, once again, is that they assumed that everyone that read their paper met their standard of “highbrow”. Sorry, that often means “stuffed shirt” and of no use at all. And if someone can’t make it in the Arena of Ideas, they deserve to lose.
The last bit, “forced readers who purposely avoided Facebook onto a platform they don’t trust.“, well, that’s on you folks. It narrowed the voices, right off the bat, that otherwise would have been commenting. Completely your fault. Completely your fault, also, for not recognizing that decisions have consequences and you caused the consequences on your own. And as it turned out “we assumed” allows me to spell it as “an a$$ out of u and me”.
Think of that – forcing readers onto a platform THAT THE EDITORS KNEW people disliked? How totalitarian. Shoulda picked DISQUS (fake accounts and all).
This next one is a complete crock and I label is Cover Your A$$ mode:
– Commenting only works in real time, meaning news organizations really have two choices: hire editors to manually approve the comments as they come in or allow the conversation to unfold naturally, warts and all. Neither meets our objective. One takes away a valuable resource better dedicated to reporting on local news, and the other creates a Wild West approach in which the loudest, most aggressive voices only serve to drive away meaningful discussion.
That first part is one of the stupidest of the piece (albeit, there are several vying for the top prize). No, commenting is NOT for just real time. We often get comments months or even years after a post has gone up. Doesn’t make that comment any less worthy, correct, or incorrect. It just means that somebody just stumbled upon it. As folks here know, I comment a lot over at Treehugger and with DISQUS (which we use), if you reply to someone, they get notified so comment strings can last a LONG time over time.
Free speech means “warts and all” and the last sentence in their ‘graph isn’t true at all. What happens is that the loudest and most aggressive voices get yelled at the most by the others – and yes, partisan ship does play a role in that. CM should understand that – and actually prefer it as multiple eyeballs increases their traffic so the ad monies rise. There are times I’ll go back to an article 10, 20 times to add yet another comment – now multiply that by the number of readers? CM is throwing away money simply because “meaningful“.
– It’s likely that some readers felt the commenting became so combative that they avoided posting in the comments section, or even worse, decided they wouldn’t write a letter or act as a source on a story for fear of being abused in our comments section. Our moderation wasn’t – and could never be – fast enough to keep up.
Yeah, so instead you just drove away EVERYBODY. That makes….sense? And nice to see the censorship in play for a company that couldn’t exist without First Amendment protections.
They close with this:
We haven’t given up hope that there’s a better way to foster the type of debate that’s vital for any strong community. We’ll explore other options, and we will bring our commenting section back to our readers only when we can do so with confidence that we’re adding a useful outlet for all readers.
Translation: you all disappointed us so much that we’re NEVAH gonna bring it back, you heathen rednecks!