I participated today in a panel discussion at Loyola, sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists. Kind of funny, given that I am not a professional journalist. The topic: “Online User Comments and its impact on news coverage, news Web sites and freedom of speech.” My fellow participants were all involved in one way or another with nola.com.
I don’t know about the audience, but I found the discussion thoroughly engaging — no credit to me, as I didn’t contribute much. It was fascinating to hear about the phenomenon of reader comments on a news site from the insider perspective. Apparently this is the hot topic in journalism right now.
The nola.commers claimed that comments which cross over a certain line and violate their terms of service are generally deleted within three to five minutes. And they have to delete lots of comments. The most provocative comments tend to be related to race/ethnicity or sexuality. They can turn off comments for any given post, and do so when commentary becomes extremely problematic. There was a lot of talk about the first amendment.
At least four people have gone to prison as a result of comments posted at nola.com. When online disputes spill over into real life, it can get ugly.
My personal blog (you’re reading it now) doesn’t have any terms of service. My readership is several orders of magnitude smaller than nola.com’s. I have no illusions about this blog as a constitutional forum. I’ll zap any comment I please. It just so happens I’m very tolerant, and in the three years I’ve been blogging I only recall deleting one comment (an insensitive remark made about Helen’s death).
Note to self: In future, don’t be shy about inquiring as to the topic and participant list, and preparing in advance for such events. If I’d had a clearer idea in my head about this forum, I think I could have prepared and been a better panelist. For example, I would have reviewed the case of Kathy Sierra. I would certainly have re-read Maitri’s post on Mainstream Media Blogs from back in May. I don’t agree with Maitri completely, but I could have at least represented her viewpoint. It would have added some spice to the discussion for sure.