Editor’s note: Here’s an article from Salon co-founder Scott Rosenberg (whom I knew in San Francisco when I was Editor at CNET News) that nails what I’ve been stating about newspaper comment sections for years, including our local one, TheUnion.com. It’s a management problem! (Most newsroom issues, such as poor editing or reactive — not proactive — news gathering, are).
When it comes to monitoring the comments on this site, for example, we don’t just “walk out of the room,” as regular commenters know. And thanks for all you to to help the cause, such as welcoming new guests or helping to crack down on abuses. After all, we are humans interacting with each other, just in a virtual place:
“This New York Times piece reflects a growing chorus of resentment among newspaper website managers against the ‘barroom brawl’ atmosphere so many of them have ended up with in the comments sections on their sites.
“They blame anonymity. If only they could make people ‘sign their real names,’ surely the atmosphere would improve!
“This wish is a pipe dream. They are misdiagnosing their problem, which has little to do with anonymity and everything to do with a failure to understand how online communities work.
“The great mistake so many newspapers and media outlets made was to turn on the comments software and then walk out of the room. They seemed to believe that the discussions would magically take care of themselves.
“If you opened a public cafe or a bar in the downtown of a city, failed to staff it, and left it untended for months on end, would you be surprised if it ended up as a rat-infested hellhole?
“Comment spaces need supervision. These moderators need to be actual people with a presence in the conversation, not faceless wielders of the ‘delete’ button. They welcome newcomers, enforce the local rules, and break up the occasional brawl — enlisting help from the more civic-minded regulars as needed.
“So turning things around isn’t easy. In fact, it’s often smarter to just shut down a comments space that’s gone bad, wait a while, and then reopen it when you’ve got a moderation plan ready and have hand-picked some early contributors to set the tone you want.”
The rest of the article is here.