The Media & Online Comments

Bermuda Blue’s got a good little post on the RG’s editorial today about online comments.

I’ve been meaning to write on the issue myself for the last few weeks – it’s been the subject of several abortive drafts.

Beachlime did, however, touch on this issue not too long ago too.

I think it has become increasingly apparent to those who frequent the online RG and dare to peek at the comments section – perhaps more out of perverse curiousity than active interest in engaging – that the RG has steadily, and until recently, quietly been reducing the scope of articles allowing comments. newspaper-273525-m

I’ve got a mixed feeling about comments…

On the one hand, yeah, they really do drive up the viewing stats.  Quite frankly, while only a fraction of viewers actually comment, the sometimes wild west to and fro of the comments greatly increases the numbers of people viewing this or that post.

On the other hand, moderating comments is one major pain in the butt, and the ‘bottom half of the internet’ is very Lord of the Flie-esque.

It takes a lot of time, and a lot of patience, to deal with comments.  And comments all too often reduce themselves to the extremely negative, with insults and personal attacks being particularly common features.

That saps a lot of positive energy.

I originally had very lax moderating on this blog.  People could post, and only comments containing certain key words I set the filter for, they’d go up immediately.

I had this rather naive belief that people are fundamentally good and would self-police their conversations.  I hadn’t factored in the power of anonymity or the impersonal distance to corrupt conversations in the virtual world.

I gradually increased my moderating, being more active in weeding out certain comments, and then eventually I burned out, spurred on by a commentator who was hell bent on issuing death threats (complete with addresses) towards various public persons.

I shut it down (the comments), at least temporarily, more to give my mind some peace, but also to try and cool people off, even at the expense of my stats.

Today I allow comments, but approve all of them.  It stifles conversation, but I think it leads to a better overall quality.

I welcome comments, partly from a stats point of view, but also because it allows people to challenge me and get me thinking.  And often it leads new ideas, and the conversation often eclipses the original post itself.

In the media

For the media, I think the comments can similarly enhance our media too.

I believe they can complement articles, and even help generate novel stories.

All too often however they end up as mudslinging and personal attacks, along with borderline libel/defamation.

They may drive up readership, but they actually detract from the story and generally lower the overall quality of discourse in our society.

They’ve actually turned me off from reading the comments, and I’ve generally stopped commenting on the RG and Bernews as a result.

And since the revelations of the underhanded and despicable actions of the BPAC group, with their hiring of bloggers to manipulate discourse in the run-up to the election – and for all we know still are – the credibility of these online comments is now questionable at best.

And it’s not just anonymity that I think contributes to this.  It’s the distance that the virtual world allows, as we’ve seen in the quality of discourse on our political FB pages, which are only marginally better than the media comment threads.

The Fumbling RG

Even though I’ve generally been turned off by the comments, I’ve also been equally disappointed by the actions of the RG.

Having allowed comments, and to now increasingly restrict them – and initially without explanation – along with this rather defensive editorial, it’s hard not to question the RG’s motives here.

My own reading is, having moderated comments on this blog, and knowing the amount of time it involves, and in light of the general crisis of the media today, the RG’s just too unstable (editorially, financially and in terms of labour power) to give moderation the time and resources it requires.

The handling of moderation by the RG is, to me, a symptom of crisis the RG’s in.

Despite being freed from the competition of the Sun, I think it would not be a surprise to anyone if the RG is struggling itself, and this change in handling of comments reflects this.

Is it a privilege to be allowed to comment on our news media? first-news-1109654-m

Perhaps.

However, the RG actively encouraged it and the entitlement of being able to do so.  To restrict that now, and in such a poorly handed manner, namely failing to explain their reasons – or allow even their editorial rant on the subject to be challenged – just looks poor and reflects the institutional crisis I think they’re having.

Just a quick note on Bernews…

Bernews has a fundamentally different model than the RG.  It appears to be based on presenting the raw story – the full press release, etc – and allowing the resulting comments to add to or otherwise become the story itself.

I use Bernews mostly to get most up to date news in its rawest form.

For most, however, it’s not simply the best site for up to date news, but the draw is the comments itself.  On Bernews one could almost say the comments are the story.

And Bernews has a fraction of the resources that the RG has – and yet, for the most part (being on the receiving end of personal attacks perhaps biases my view there, lol), does a decent job of moderating comments.

Which begs the question, if Bernews can do it, however imperfectly, why can’t the RG?

 

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6 thoughts on “The Media & Online Comments

  1. Electronically hosting an article (i.e. financially subsidizing the related costs) that allows others to post their thoughts, observations, comments or opinions leaves the host (from what I’ve been told) liable and thereby accountable for the remarks. If this is accurate than it seem understandable that any for profit organization would limit their potential exposure.

  2. Pingback: Bermuda Blue | Commenting on stories: a right or a privilege? Updated

  3. I was under the impression that living in a democratic society would allow one to have freedom of speech which is counted to be a right and not a privilege. I have been writing for a long time in Bermuda and you might say I have seen it all with respect to freedom of speech in this country-so-called. I have been subjected to selective censorship to the out right banning of my written opinions. But the reason I am still here is because I refused to go anywhere. I f I don’t get in one way I’ll get in another way. I probably write one of longest existing columns in Bermuda; ‘The Other Alternative’ in the Workers Voice. I call it that for a reason because for too long only one point of view is given play; At least that is the way it was when I first began writing and expressing an opinion in the late 1970’s. Of course today thanks largely to social media; there is no longer a monopolize media opinion out there and that remains the truth even in the wake of the demise of the Bermuda Sun. No longer can a editor boast that his newspaper sets the agenda in this country as was done some time back. But there still remains a legacy of the bad old days; the number of written opinions that hide behind false names as they express their comments. They do so because some of those comments will never be made if they had to be defended in the public eye and the public knew who made them. Me I always sign name; I am prepared to stand behind my opinion; the public can either agree or disagree. That to my mind is the essence of what it means to live in a democratic society and I count the ability to do so as a right and not a privilege.

  4. If you read page four of the RG you will see it has a consulting editor and three deputy editors, then there are the sub-editors. It seems to me that there are enough people there to moderate the comments, even if it is just 9 to 5? I agree that the comments sometimes take your breath away but is that a reason to stop them altogether? I don’t think so, and it comes down to careful moderation. The RG is the only paper in town and has far more influence than any other media organization, to effectively stifle some form of debate in this way is an abdication of its responsibilities – it also adds to its legacy issue as it now looks as it the RG is prepared to preach but not the listen….

  5. I love Bernews, and think they do a good job for the most part, but I’ve always felt their comments section was a bit like The Wild West. I generally am against strict moderation, but Bernews’ comments’ section is pretty hard to stomach. And it’s oddly inconsistent, I’ve found: I have in the past made seemingly harmless comments that just weren’t posted.

    I get what you’re saying with the RG, but I think their commenting system—at least on the stories they allow comments on—does generally allow for more respectful discussion. More often than not, commentary on Bernews on the other hand descends into either predictable vitriol, or a tangent (see comments re: the shirt on Jeff Baron’s story).

  6. I love Bernews, and think they do a good job considering their relative modest resources, but I would not count their comment system as among their strengths. While I am generally against censorship and strict moderation, Bernews’ comments often feel like the Wild West to me: a patchwork of personal attacks and exhausting back-and-forths.

    I have generally given up commenting on — and even reading the comments for — stories on Bernews these days. This may be a bit of an unpopular opinion, but I have found that, on the stories they allow comments for, the RG’s comments system allows for higher quality discussion. Yes, it appears to be more strictly monitored than Bernews’, but commentary is less prone to descend into hostile waters on the RG — at least nowadays. Without fail, Bernews’ stories invite the worst of Bermuda’s online bloggers, replete with vitriol and pointless tangents (see the discussion of Jeff Baron’s shirt on a recent story). And I’ve found posting comments to be rather inconsistent: I have penned what I felt to be pretty innocuous comments in the past which were just never posted.

    Again, I am not advocating for Bernews to do anything differently.* But I definitely don’t think the discussions on there are any more valuable than what is found on The Royal Gazette.

    *sidenote: I do think Bernews would be better off updating its commenting platform from a legacy WordPress system to the more advanced Disqus, which the RG uses.

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