Monday, January 21, 2008

Is there anything I don't have a problem with?

Apparently not.

The current targets of my wrath: newspapers publishing anonymous hate comments on "blogs."

In case you missed it, here's my most recent letter to the KC Star.

And, proving my point, here are the the anonymous online comments my letter spawned:

* * *
Never one to leave well enough alone, I sent a note to the paper's readers' representative questioning the Star's policy of publishing unsigned commentary on unmonitored blogs. I quoted a particulary offensive string of comments readers vomited onto the Star's Crime Blog.

The ombudsman's response:

"Ms. Wigand, can you please be more specific? Are you talking about the comments thread? If so, I will ask the Web editors to review them, but no, doesn't moderate comments. Editors reserve the right to remove things, though. As I've written multiple times on my blog, it's a problem all over the Internet, and I don't know any way around it. User participation is absolutely vital to a Web site, but some people demonstrate time and again that they can't behave. I'm afraid that's just the down side to the interactivity."

To which I replied:

"I understand that it's your job to be an apologist for the newspaper's policies. But you will never convince me that this type of anonymous commentary is of any value to newspapers and the communities they serve.

I am not a techno-newbie. I love the internet. And the First Amendment. But as a former journalist, I am appalled that newspapers are taking the low road and allowing their sites to be used for unsigned, vulgar exchanges.

It's like public stonings. Nobody knows where the comments are coming from, and unhealthy, irresponsible hysteria ensues."

* * *
For the record, I swiped the stoning analogy from my husband, and I think it's a good one.

Not every online newspaper blurs the line between reporting and commentary. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a separate Blogging section enabling people to comment on public affairs without compromising or tainting the reported content on news pages. It's dangerously deceiving to place the anonymous opinions right next to the
stories on line. People get confused as to where the facts end and the rabid opinions begin.

I miss the days when good reporting and thoughtful commentary sold papers. And I believe our society is damaged when the media equates unsigned, hateful, off-the-cuff frat boy slams with measured, reasoned discourse.

To quote the maitre d' in Ferris Bueller, "I weep for the future."

Next week's target: Officious medical bureaucrats. Stay tuned.


Jas P. said...

Dug your letter, Mol. The responses to it are amusing, most of them proving your point, not that it needed proof. It sounds like you might have one fan out there who actually wrote in. But you have lots who didn't.

I tried to post a King speech off of YouTube, but I couldn't embed the video for some reason. It wouldn't copy over.

Still gives me chills, hearing that "mountaintop" speech from the day before he was shot. Beautiful.

SkipFitz said...

As often as I roll my eyes at the cowardly bravado anonymous posting tends to breed in both middle school students and those who are, essentially middle school students for life (vis-à-vis maturity level), I wonder, other than heavy-handed moderation, what the solution is. I suppose sites could demand you get an account to post, but other than requiring identifiable financial information, for example, to register, it's easy to hand over false information and hide yourself under the shroud of anonymity of a pseudonym. Moreover, one could create multiple accounts for multiple posts, multiplying our multiple headaches. Another problem facing registration to post is that, especially for a mid-size paper as the Star, registration can mean the death of user contribution because Internet users are inherently lazy. They'll sigh at having to sign up for yet another site, and will refuse to contribute. This is a good thing for the abusive users, but it also drives away the better contributors.

I'm not sure what the happy median is between squelching open comment and active disallowance of insulting comments (never mind the issue of agreeing on a working definition of "insulting"), but in the end I, too, would like to see fewer idiotic brayings and more thoughtful commentary.

Mol the Doll said...

I'm old-fashioned. I think the line between disciplined reporting and haphazard commentary is completely blurred.

I also think newspapers are entitled to hold readers' responses to a higher standard than any other internet flame board.

Derek Donovan, the Star's "reader's rep," blogged recently that rabid posting has been a problem ever since people started scrawling on bathroom walls.

If I were the only newspaper in a major market, I'm not sure I'd embrace that analogy.

k said...

yer so cool molly! ditto to everything you said. glad there are people like you who can put their thoughts into words.