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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Comments on news stories

Posted By on Thu, Nov 29, 2007 at 9:02 AM

Fiona Spruill of the New York Times is participating in a Q&A this week on the Times website. A co-worker emailed it to me a few days ago, and I just checked it out. I appreciate her willingness to answer questions (and the Times' willingness to let her), because I'm really interested in what she has to say.

I'm particularly curious about the Times' commenting policy. Seven Days is moving closer to adding reader comments to stories, and I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Like, how are we going to moderate them? Or, more accurately, how am I going to moderate them?

Here's part of Spruill's answer to a question about adding more reader comments:

We have made the decision to pre-screen everything and weed out thetenacious few who might try to derail a conversation with off-topic orabusive comments. (Our moderating guidelines are available here.)Moderating takes time, which is why only a handful of articles havecomments right now, but we hope to open up more articles to comments inthe near future.

I know we aren't going to pre-screen everything, but I do want to have a system that encourages civility and thoughtful comments, and discourages trolls.

I notice that Spruill mentions the Times is hiring a part-time communty moderator, to help deal with the increase in comments. Unfortunately, that's not an option here... yet.

I also want to point out this comment thread on the Burlington Free Press site. I almost posted about it last week, but I held off, because I wasn't sure what to say about it. I'm still not sure, actually, but I'm putting it out there anyway.

The article it's attached to is the first (I think) of the two that the BFP ran about Shawn Burritt, a  guy from Jericho who was arrested for driving drunk and causing a crash that killed a high school student. It's a tragic story.

I think this comment thread exemplifies some of the best and worst aspects of online discussion.

Within this thread, there are comments from readers who were involved in the accident and knew the people involved. Their comments add a different and — I think — valuable perspective to the news story.

That is, if you believe that they are who they say they are.

There's no way to know for sure, really, since the writers use aliases, and there's no way to contact them.

There are also several inflammatory posts by people who just want to sound off on the story. Some of their comments are insensitive, and don't add anything to the discussion. They probably make more rational readers shy away from commenting.

It feels like this thread needs another layer of moderation, either by a paid moderator, or by the readers. Some way of elevating the useful comments, and downgrading the others.

I don't know if we'll be able to build something like that into our site, but I hope that we can eventually. I think I want to have the option of reading all of the comments, but I want to see the best ones first. Or I want some way of seeing at a glance which are worth reading, and which are worth skipping unless I decide I want to delve deeper.

As you can see, I'm still trying to figure all of this out. Thoughts?

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

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About The Author

Cathy Resmer

Cathy Resmer

Bio:
Cathy Resmer is a former staff writer and currently an associate publisher at Seven Days, and is one of the organizers of the Vermont Tech Jam. She's also the Copublisher and Executive Editor of Kids VT, Seven Days' free monthly parenting publication.

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