Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Online reality gets to be a bit much for the Monitor

Yesterday afternoon, the Concord Monitor informed readers that it was eliminating anonymous posting on its Web site and requiring people to sign up with user names. They also implemented a new plan that will allow "trusted" users to be created and for the community to regulate their site with ratings, in order to stave off any "mean-spirited" comments.
Hey, this is not a huge thing. The company I work for implemented the same change a few months after allowing comments online for many of the same reasons the Monitor is making the change. It was an absolute free-for-all, as it has been on the Monitor's site. And it seems now, the reality of what people think and are willing to say online is a bit too much reality or free speech for the Monitor to handle.
At the same time, anonymity allows people to show their true feelings. Instead of censoring or trying to control the true feelings of people, media outlets should embrace the interaction and learn from what people are saying.
Personally, it's not a big deal to get a user name and continue to post things. You can make up a fake name and fake email and have the same anonymity commenters have now. I do worry about having a trusted user process instead of a free and open process. Does the Monitor really want its Web site to become a flame and rating war like Daily Kos or Blue Hampshire? It would seem to me that a better idea would be to allow the community to freely say what they want without being rated or having their comments disappear because some people don't like them. That is what has happened before on other sites and that's what will happen at the Monitor.
That said, people will be free to comment here as much as they like.
News from
May 26, 2009

Dear Monitor Online member,
Because you are a registered member of the Concord Monitor online community, I wanted to tell you in advance about some exciting improvements coming to the website tomorrow. We are completely redesigning our reader comments, to make it an even better forum for community dialog.

Some things you'll notice right away:

Comments will now be threaded, making it easier to follow side discussions.

You'll be able to control how you view the comments, switching from having the newest on top (the way we show them now) to having the oldest on top, if you prefer it that way.

You'll be able to preview your comments before you post them. If you notice an error in something you wrote, or you just want to tweak the wording, you now will be able to edit your comment after it's posted, at least until someone responds to it.

You'll be able to e-mail specific comments to friends.

You'll be able to rate comments, so people can quickly find the best comments. (And so we can call attention to the best of the best.)

We've made some changes behind the scenes, too.

First, we will begin requiring registration of all posters. Screen names are fine, of course. But we will no longer publish completely anonymous posts. This should make it easier to follow the comments, and should cut down on sock puppets and spam.

We've also introduced user roles that will allow us to entrust experienced posters with direct, immediate posting, as we currently allow for all registered users. Existing registered users, like you, will be grandfathered in as trusted users. Newly registered users, however, will go through a period when their comments are reviewed before they're posted. Once they've demonstrated that they understand and are willing to follow the discussion guidelines, their comments will go up directly.

On the other hand, if we receive a number of legitimate complaints that a trusted user is violating the discussion guidelines, we can now remove the user's trusted status without having to block the account entirely.

To keep that from happening to you, be sure to check out our revised discussion guidelines and our new Rules of the Road FAQ. In the FAQ, we've tried to lay out in plain language what we hope to see on the comment boards -- a lively, civil discussion, with plenty of room for argument and disagreement but no tolerance for personal attacks, name-calling, derogatory comments, spam or other anti-social behavior.

Thanks for your participation. We hope you like the new features. And if you don't, well, we're sure you'll let us know!


Geordie Wilson
Publisher, Concord Monitor


Anonymous said...

I wondered what the Monitor was up to. I'm concerned that they are pulling the web based soap box right out from under the speaker. For a reader to really get the pulse of society will now require searching out the commentary vice just looking at the anonymous posts by an article. Shame on the Monitor. I bet there is some dollar advantage for the Monitor under all this...just go to the page for registration and it seems like there is someone gathering demographics for something. You know, I was hoping to leave a note about the MacKay switch parties from Republican to Democrat (everybody I spoke with seems to think that he's doing so just to get elected...I guess it's all about Jim) but I guess I'll need to wait until OurConcord gets the issue "in play."

Tony said...

Thanks Anon7:54 for posting.
I don't know if there is a "dollar advantage" to doing this ... it would seem to me that it actually probably is a disadvantage. This policy will lower the amount of Web posts and clicks. I mean, let's be honest, some folks click on a story numerous times to follow the comments. With fewer people commenting, there are probably going to be fewer views, and hence, fewer clicks and probably fewer dollars.
Headache-wise, this is the right move and will save labor productivity time. I can tell you from previous experience. From a newspaper editor's perspective, keeping track of all the anonymous comments and having to decide whether to leave them or delete them is a cumbersome task. It takes away precious time from important things, like editing copy, meeting with the community, or even writing stories or columns. That time is much more important, in my mind especially with a small newspaper operation, being spent on things that produce meaningful comment for readers [the Monitor is actually a pretty good sized operation ...]
Ideally, if people want to comment anonymously, they can - they can create an anonymous email and handle and post away. Sure, that takes a bit of initiative. But you can still say whatever you want to. Personally, I don't have a problem signing my name to whatever I write ... people know were I stand and I don't have anything to hide.
I don't know if I will be covering the special election for the District 11 or not. I probably should, once the candidates are decided. I hope that more than two come forward. In the past, that District has always had some really good battles.

Ben Venator said...

As for the District 11, more than two will come forward. I think Jim is an excellent civil servant, I have supported him in the past and would support him against Lynn in the final, but it would be better for the rest of us if he got a good challenge in the Democratic primary and it Lynn got a good challenge in the Republican primary.

I think things would get really interesting if proven District 11 vote-getters Dan St. Hillaire and Jenny Patterson jumped in, I don't think either of them will.

Of course, there is always the spectre of the rare independent candidate ... :-)

Anonymous said...

Until the change I have been a regular poster on the Monitor's website.

As much as we should embrace free speech, I think there was a definite need to reign in the flame mongers and unhinged on the Monitor site.

When the changes were rolled out, no one on the Monitor site considered to check for browser interoperability, since it appears that only Internet Explorer seems to work in the new and "improved" format.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that the Monitor used this change to block not only the many over-the-top anonymous posters, but also some long-time posters that they consider too inflammatory or controversial, since I have noticed that since the change the usual posters have either changed avatars or have dropped off the board altogether.

I have asked the Monitor to address this concern about the technical issues and the suspected censorship on their site, but have yet to receive any response from them.

So, as I think there was a need to reign in the unhinged on their site (which is their perfect right) I tend to these changes could have been handled better with a bit more diligent moderation of what was being posted that includes a clearly stated Acceptable Use Policy (which after their "enhancements," is nowhere to be found on the Monitor website), rather than what I suspect to be a wholesale expulsion of many long-time posters.