Epilogue: The Photo News & Comment Civility
After our recent series on The Photo News and Comment Civility, I felt a follow-up to describe the outcomes of the situation was in order, and slightly overdue.
This site has commented publicly on the situation at the Photo News concerning the civility of comments, moderation, and the overall treatment of comments. Please keep in mind that comments are a service, not “bread & butter” for the paper, nor a revenue generator. In fact, moderating them is a complete time-suck for the paper and dealing with troublesome anonymous trolling takes time away from the core business, which should be reporting.
I won’t discuss editorial policy in this piece. They are a newspaper, we are not. We offer “perspective”, usually based on news, and fact-checked as much as possible before printing. That’s only responsible writing. The Photo News, attempts to distance from a perspective as much as any paper published by the local residents. Of course, there will always be the opportunity for some perspective to influence the writing, but their task is reporting news, and ours is providing perspective. End of that clarification.
I was recently invited to meet with Jeanne Straus and Bob Quinn, as well as their technology department, to discuss approaches to an issue on which they also shared concerns. I won’t overstate the influence of our series on the conversation, but we acknowledged that the information provided was taken seriously and could have undermined the ability to manage the situation further.
As Jeanne Straus’ position indicated, they do not as a paper wish to influence, guide, or interject themselves into the conversation. We agreed. It’s not their place to take a position as a “neutral publisher”. As a blog, our site is a much better forum for that, and their comments should simply represent community dialogue without the direction of the paper. Nor do they have the time to act as police.
Like The Photo News, both of our sites utilize Disqus as an authentication and commenting platform. While not perfect, we discussed ways in which this could be used that would not necessarily result in personal retaliation or libel claims lodged against parties. But we agreed that the use of unauthenticated commenting simply acted as a welcome mat for SPAM and trolling. It’s the reason that this site does not permit unauthenticated users. Again, this is not perfect and we understand that there are still ways to avert this, but it is an improvement over having nothing to control access.
The Photo News instituted Disqus authentication on July 2nd. We applaud The Photo News’ action, and believe it will lend itself to a much more civil dialogue, rather than the trolling, personal attacks, and libelous statements that arose from the anonymity issue being permitted. It’s a positive step.
Granted, The Photo News will still need to continue to review the progress and civility, but they’ll need to spend much less time doing so, allowing them to focus on news coverage. We agree that readers deserve a voice, and The Photo News has provided that. We hope it improves in certain respects, but we view this as being responsible to the citizens of the community it serves.
Yes, this has resulted in fewer comments on The Photo News. The comments it has inspired have been far more intelligent, responsible, and insightful. They look less like schoolyard bullies picking on the other kids. The tenor and tone has changed dramatically in a very short time.
Allow me to thank both Bob Quinn and Jeanne Straus for a productive and mutually beneficial conversation and a step toward truly restoring civility to the dialogue on The Photo News once again. No more do people need to fear reading below the end of the Web article and think that Monroe is full of strife, infighting, and civil unrest, but is truly a place where people care enough about their community to make their voices heard in a positive and productive way.