January 2, 2012
The Chattanooga Times Free Press has come up with a twist on how to deal with comments. They’re only allowing them on opinion articles such as columns, editorials and cartoons. It’s not clear what they’re doing with letters to the editor, although it appears those will be closed as well.
Columnist Alison Gerber:
In too many cases, the online conversations descend into poisonous exchanges with comments that are cruel, rage-filled, racist or brimming with words you wouldn’t want your mother to hear you utter. We remove many of those comments, but it’s nearly impossible to police every one and, even if an inappropriate or inaccurate comment is up only for a short time, it can damage the reputation of a person, a business, the newspaper.
There doesn’t seem to be any easy solution to this problem. Personal attacks are almost inevitable.
At the Kamloops Daily News, we always close comments on court stories because people have been known to jump in with prejudicial comments that could very well influence the course of justice. It’s just not worth the risk.
Otherwise, we leave them open.
My latest strategy as moderator is based on a blog post by Maria Langer. She basically says that the rules should be clearly posted and that comments that break the rules should be deleted without warning or discussion. I’ve taken it a step further. I’ll delete or edit comments a few times, but if that doesn’t get the message through, I swing the ban hammer.
I often think back to an incident that took place when I lived in an apartment block. I complained to the manager one day about a tenant playing loud music in the middle of the night. And the next thing I knew the tenant was being evicted.
I thought that was a little harsh, and said so. But he explained that his policy was to get rid of bad tenants right way. Otherwise, the good tenants would leave, and he would have nothing left but bad tenants.
It works the same with the comments. Ban the bad ones, and the good ones will stay and flourish.