Archive for Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Comment critic

October 21, 2009


To the editor:

I am writing in regards to a policy at the Lawrence Journal-World that seems to be intended in the spirit of free speech and the great “commons” of ideas: the online comment function. These comments do not, however, encourage civil discourse. Sometimes, they are the benign evidence of the trolls of the Internet; worse, they can show everyone the visceral mentality of people who are allowed to hide behind anonymity to trade vicious speculation and attacks.

I am not alone in this observation. Even some of your own reporters have agreed with me that the comments following online articles do not serve the function of increasing ideas in the public sphere or do so at great cost.

I read the paper version of this publication, read it online and read several other papers. From these materials, I see creative ways of allowing comments. There are alternatives. If you must include them, you could at the very least make them accessible by another click, another screen away, as the old New York Times chooses to do.

When a tragedy occurs in our community, victims and their friends do not deserve the kinds of speculative, rude, specious and downright mean comments from posters that follow at the bottom of an article. No amount of forum monitoring can undo the damage. Further, wouldn’t your resources be better spent than policing a forum? The Journal-World would do better to take advantage of the technologies available that can separate their journalism from what passes as “comments” on its published articles.


BMI 8 years, 7 months ago

Careful what you write here, you might become part of her thesis. This is part of what Joseph Harrington wrote about Jen on his blog.

"Over the next year (at least), Jen will be writing her MFA thesis on-line – qua blog. Naturally, it will involve communications, nature, and farming. But I think it will be different from other blogs on those various topics, in that she is becoming ever more aware of the possibilities and limitations of the Blog Form – and how it might intersect with farming. For one thing, I and her other committee members are going to comment on the blog on the blog – thereby becoming part of the blog/thesis. Hell, you can comment on the blog and become part of her thesis! To add to the recursive fun, I fully expect that she will read this blog post, which is a reflection on her reflections on her blog. And she may even comment."

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Jen makes a valid point.

Is the comment section about providing information and civil discussion?

Real names might be worth considering.

justforfun 8 years, 7 months ago

Blah Blah Blah Blah!!! Pilgrim- I agree If ya don't want to see the comments don't read past the bottom af article. Furthermore, if someone is looking to the forum for support after a tragic event that's a risky place to look.

mom_of_three 8 years, 7 months ago

There are posters who remain anonymous so they can make snide remarks at will, just to see who they can piss off.
The rest of us are anonymous for whatever reason and are civil. We use the comments to learn and understand about a situation when it warrants or to have fun with online acquaintances. I take pride in that I remain civil unless I am attacked, and even then, I practice restraint. I remain anonymous so I can say what I want and not have it reflect on my family and so I won't be judged. My point of view may be different than what people think it will be.
Now, as far as tragedy goes, I like the fact this newspaper allows discussion when others do not. I would be so disappointed if it were to be removed. But the discussion section is not the place to look for support. That would come from the online guestbook at the funeral home.
I have lost a loved one in a tragic well-publicized situation. We didn't listen to the news or read the newspaper comments. Even the newspaper articles trying to investigate further into the event would have sent my family members into a deeper depression.
People need to use common sense in these situations.

geekin_topekan 8 years, 7 months ago

LJWorld seems to have selective ideas as to what is free speech. My comments that point out KU students being the biggest menace to innocent lives in Lawrence is deleted even though the records clearly show otherwise.

Three years ago when my dear friend Jeanie was run over by a train, the LJWorld found it proper to bring the placement of her genitals into public light. I have yet to see LJWorld publish the placement or even reference any fatlity/victims genetals into any article.

Unless they were slashed by a KU student of course.

BrianR 8 years, 7 months ago

It comes down to generating 'hits' and winning awards. If the L J-W took the objectionable remarks described in the letter and subtracted them from the million + comments they have, how impressive would those numbers be? Trolls increase traffic, change the motives and incentives for the paper and, to a small extent, you change the online culture because a higher percentage of comments would never see the light of day.

jaywalker 8 years, 7 months ago

"These comments do not, however, encourage civil discourse"

Sorry, Jen, that's just not true. There are civil exchanges of ideas on these boards all the time. There will always be trolls, but this site is so much better than virtually any other of it's kind, at least any I've seen. And the point Pilgrim brings up - that it's relatively easy to self-control your scroll function - makes your outrage all the more curious, if not spurious. Are your sensibilities so delicate and yet you just can't avoid reading the comments you disdain? Seems akin to complaining about a tv show when it's so easy to change the channel, or grousing about the decadence of a nude beach when you have to make an effort to see it from your own sandy oasis. I do agree with you when it comes to stories on personal tragedy and it's been suggested that the comment section be closed for such. Sounds prudent to me. But as to the rest, there's no reason to cloak the site in a black plastic bag like it's porn. Mr. Kealing and the LJW staff run this forum exceedingly well. If you're not a fan and don't wish to participate, that's you're perogative. You certainly aren't being forced to read anything.

labmonkey 8 years, 7 months ago

I have an idea.....all of us need to post anonomous comments on Jen's blog. That would be funny in a dorky way.

labmonkey 8 years, 7 months ago

BrianR is correct. Trolls of the internet do increase traffic, like trolls of the editorial column increase traffic. Notice that the two editorials that bring the most traffic (by looking at the comment numbers), are those of Leonard Pitts and Cal Thomas. Both have beliefs that are to the fringe of their side of the isle, and neither one writes that well...but newspapers carry them because they increase traffic. Although I admit I read both, I have started to refuse to comment on either's editorial as that is actually a way of supporting them.

I kept a blog for two years. You generate more comments and hits if you post something contraversial, but you also risk that post getting into the wrong hands (a potential employer, the media when I run for president). Soon I ran out of things to write about because I was being too careful and I shut it down. Anonymity allows most to not have to be as careful, which adds color and life to the comment thread. If the LJworld takes away the option for anonmyity, the site will lose many hits.

puddleglum 8 years, 7 months ago

it might kill me, but I will agree with pilgrim2 and jaywalker: worth repeating.......... Mr. Kealing and the LJW staff run this forum exceedingly well. If you're not a fan and don't wish to participate, that's you're perogative. You certainly aren't being forced to read anything.

don't like it? don't read it. Thousands and thousands of us love it and read it everyday. and civil discussion happens here all of the time-not to mention that it is awesome to see other peoples' opinions and viewpoints. It helps to understand how others think, and more than once, I have come to modify my position on things. Kind of like a society.

temperance 8 years, 7 months ago

"comments following online articles do not serve the function of increasing ideas in the public sphere or do so at great cost."

According to someone named Jen . . . I guess it's been almost a full month before someone complained about the comment section.

carry on people!

mom_of_three 8 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, tom, you are not in the anonymous snide category, just the occasional snide category.

My kids have mentioned the and their comments have been discussed in the class occasionally. One of mine said my comments were mentioned, and they knew it was me, but didn't say a word. Not that my kid would be embarrassed by me, but might have been taunted because my views were not the popular ones of the day.
By remaining anonymous, I am able to say my piece in peace.

Mel Briscoe 8 years, 7 months ago

i can understand your intention w/ this article but you would be hard-pressed to find an online version of ANY newspaper which doesn't allow for comments. and, unfortunately, the whole "troll" aspect is indicative of the internet period. unless the ljw (and other newspaper sites) required for EVERY poster to be verified (like yours truly-- yay me) before they could post a comment, the occasional anonymous butthole isn't able to be eradicated, or at the very least, dealt w/ in a much more expeditious manner.

in other words, i agree w/ you but there's nothing you can do about it except for refusing to read the online version of this paper.

canyon_wren 8 years, 7 months ago

Like puddleglum, I have learned a lot about other perspectives from the posts that has been really helpful and enlightening. I also agree that no real purpose is served by the elimination of anonymity. Most of these posts are not so bad that one needs to know who the poster is--our opinions don't need personal defense or be available for personal attack, for the most part. Comments posted after articles about someone's death are often inappropriate, and mom-of-three is right when she says those involved should not be seeking support from the posts.

Joe Hyde 8 years, 7 months ago

mom_of_three, I hope that you, and many others who post comments in the J-W, will one day reconsider your reluctance to post your real name.

I for one have noticed your practice of sticking to the topic -- never launching into a parallel universe rant against "you conservatives" or "you liberals". You just say what you have to say and leave out the personal attacks, always remaining civil, always practicing restraint. And you participate in the on-line comments section as a way to learn, as much as to educate others in your own perhaps slightly different point of view.

To my way of thinking, your consistently respectful comment-posting behavior is exactly what you, and others who do the same, should WANT to "reflect on your family", and "be judged on". So what, if your point of view is different than what some people think it will be?

So what, if someone reading your comment gets upset over how you came down on a certain subject? If they feel strongly enough, they can offer up a reasonable and respectful comment of their own that might persuade you (and others who agree with you) to think otherwise.

When (not if, but when) an anonymous poster hurls a vicious personal insult at you simply because he or she disagrees with one of your comments, then yes, these "cyberspace drive-by shootings" can be upsetting. In the event, it is helpful to mentally visualize the squirming little mean-spirited coward kissing the north end of a southbound horse.

Indeed, once you begin using your real name in on-line posts you will find it automatically becomes easy to let these anonymous attacks and insults roll harmlessly off your back. That's because in the exchange it was you who showed courage by identifying yourself, whereas those snipers who fire on you are people who don't have the guts to ever stand up and show themselves.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 7 months ago

"Complain about LPD, the city, LDCFM for flying too many patients, the bus system, the wetlands, KU, towers on a hotel, and on and on." You forgot roundabouts.

parrothead8 8 years, 7 months ago

TomShewmon (Tom Shewmon) says…

Informative, entertaining, interesting, educational, provocative, award-winning, free, fun, addictive…….just a few words to describe Lawrence-Journal World's On-Line discussion forums.

Well said, Tom. Finally...something you and I agree on!

I love the comments section, because of people like Tom. He and I will probably disagree on most every substantive issue, but at least here we get to talk about it. In my opinion, that's a good thing.

staff04 8 years, 7 months ago

I think the anonymity bit has been hashed over enough times...implement a non-anonymous forum rule and the forum dies. Simple enough.

It would not bother me one bit to have to, as I do on many other online newspapers, click to the next page to comment or read the comments.

I find it funny that Tom doesn't like the idea of people turning his lunatic blather off via an "ignore" function. I think it would be fascinating from an LJW editor's perspective to see which of Tom's perceived adversaries would actually ignore him. It would be even more entertaining to see what happens if/when the forum community stops responding to his posts--although I wouldn't want the consequences of his paranoid behavior afterwards on my conscience...

Mel Briscoe 8 years, 7 months ago

for some reason the term "lunatic blather" is super funny to me right now! literally LOL!

Boston_Corbett 8 years, 7 months ago

"I find it funny that Tom doesn't like the idea of people turning his lunatic blather off via an “ignore” function"

Yup, and I would be among the very first to use such ignore function, on Tom Shewmon and Merrill both, so it isn't a matter of ideology.

Phil Minkin 8 years, 7 months ago

Online comments sometimes provide new information, challenge the views of the article or letter writer, or provide a different perspective all of which are useful and interesting. When the comments degenterate into a pissing contest among posters, having little or nothing to with the subject of the article, then some editing would be useful.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 7 months ago

uh, Jen, citing the new york times as some kinda standard is simply hilarious.

ljworld's doing much better financially and in terms of maintaining readership. NYT didn't even cover Van Jones until the day he was out, liberal slant? yes.

Jen, grow up a little. look at other internet sites. this one's head and shoulders above the rest for layout as well as for comments.

and, they allow whinrs like you. put that in your thesis too.

BMI=good catch.

1029 8 years, 7 months ago

Another stupid letter....

I usually don't even read the articles, just the comments. And then I comment if it's something that I think will make the people more smarter for hearing. My comments bring joy and intelligence into the lives of my fellow Lawrencianites. I love the LJ-W just as it is.

canyon_wren 8 years, 7 months ago

riverat--you went to so much trouble to encourage mom-of-three NOT to resort to anonymity, but you failed to explain what the advantage of disclosing one's identity would be? Did I miss something?

mom_of_three 8 years, 7 months ago

river rat - Thanks for the response. Nice to hear how others view my posts. And I know I should be above the critics and not be anonymous and be proud to have my name attached to my posts. And I totally agree with your logic in your response.
But the insecure portion of my inner self is afraid. I don't want to get into any arguments or have any conflicts with anyone about what I post. I get enough of that from my mother and extended family. Since I am working on my bachelor's degree, I also have the college community to think about. And I am able to respond more freely since I am anonymous. I don't have to worry about what anyone thinks.
Now, I have felt very strongly about a few issues and have written a couple letters to my hometown editor, which were published. I didn't live there at the time. My mother didn't understand why, but my grandma was proud of what I wrote.
Maybe, one of these days, I will put my name out there. Just not as secure in myself as some are, I guess.

geekin_topekan 8 years, 7 months ago

"At least you are being honest in why you hate the JW." +++ No axes here.I love LJWorld. Don't know what Id do without it. Where in the world do you feel that truth indicates hatred?I just wonder where the double standards are rooted is all. Jeanie's dead and there is nothing anyone can do about it.LJWorld felt the need to publish the location and condition of her genitalia. I asked LJWorld editors at the time,why hers were published and noone else's had been before or has been since.No answers from anyone.

Jimo 8 years, 7 months ago

"When a tragedy occurs in our community, victims and their friends do not deserve the kinds of speculative, rude, specious and downright mean comments from posters that follow at the bottom of an article."

While there certainly is often an excess of curiously inappropriate comments when various tragedies occur, Humphrey's idea of comment police seems strangely misplaced.

Tragedies inevitably involve the public - police, firemen, courts, civil and/or criminal action between citizens, news coverage, etc. It is wholly inappropriate in a democratic society to make these tragedies and the public involvement in them off-limits to commentary or to rely solely upon self-appointed "media" as the exclusive prism through which to view these events. If anything, I believe there is not enough public comment, and therefore public consideration and involvement, of many such matters. LJW itself is often far too intimate with various interests, powerful persons, and institutions that act within the community to be anointed gate-keeper of accepted comment or observation. Who else but the public will police the police or judge the judges? How can citizens evaluate the operation and effectiveness of law?

LJW certainly has the right to not provide such a forum. But it cannot both decline and serve it's stated purpose of civil discussion. Civil does not mean friendly or having good manners but is derived from the Latin "civilis" meaning citizen, hence its core definition: relating to citizens, or the relationship of citizens to the state and the rights of private individuals and legal proceedings involving these rights.

mr_right_wing 8 years, 7 months ago


(You know she won't be able to resist checking posts!)

I'm behaving.

I think some of the folks you mention never got 'works well with others' marked on their report cards.

Of course that isn't me. I got 'runs with scissors' a few times, but I never poked my eye out, so no harm done.

Have a wonderful day Jen! Best LTE ever, please write more.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Merrill is Merrill's name.

Never used anything but my real name......

mom_of_three 8 years, 7 months ago

They call me "mom" at home. That isn't my real name? hhmm......

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years, 7 months ago

(hmm... tange just discovered that merrill speaks of himself in the third person....)

canyon_wren 8 years, 7 months ago

Off the subject a bit, but...whatever happened to some of the posters that we don't hear from anymore, like the following: sunflower sue, fangorn, ms-canada, etc. Are they still reading and just not posting? There are quite a few that used to have such interesting posts and no longer show up. Anyone have any ideas?

ralphralph 8 years, 7 months ago

I love LJ World comments. They are part of what makes this site the closest thing I see in Kansas to a seamless text/audio/video/interactive ...(whatever else?) newspaper of the future. Sometimes the discourse is civil, and it can be informative to boot. Other times, not so much. Depending on my mood, I may dive into the latter just for kicks, or click my way on down the information superhighway without fixating on some insensitive post. At its best, I think this discourse brings immediate feedback from disparate points of view and levels of knowledge, and an odd equilibrium results. Bottom Line (for me): The advantages and benefits of free speech and the relatively unfettered exchange of ideas greatly outweigh the affront and incivility which one may find nearly anywhere if one looks hard enough.

remember_username 8 years, 7 months ago

I'm siding with Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin on the anonymous posting issue. I no longer think an "ignore" button is necessary as I've learned to gloss over comments from some "broken record" posters. I'll check one post in ten from some folks just to see if they've tried a new argument. Some "broken records" are entertaining, and I've some admiration for the imagination it takes to blame all planetary events on just three people.

Jen Humphrey 8 years, 7 months ago

There is much irony in posting a comment on the comments about a LTE about comments. Can't get more metatext than that! Letters are supposed to prompt people to discuss, so to that end, I'm happy to see the conversation.

I am Jen Humphrey, the writer of the letter above. More irony: my ID is still set to anonymous, though I asked the LJW site to change that yesterday. I set up the profile more than a year ago when I was trying to use the Journal-World site for a carpool connection. Had I the need to comment in that year, I would have changed those settings to post with my name, just as I do with a LTE. (Apparently it takes a day for the LJW staff to call to confirm that I am who I say I am).

As is often the case with LTEs, it's hard to get across the subtleties in 150 words. I'll clarify: I am not suggesting the forums go away. I skim them same as you. As an observer, I think of them as a community barometer, albeit a bit of a skewed one (like many opt-in activities such as LTEs and blogs, they reflect the opinions of those who are most passionate at either end of a spectrum). For those who participate in them, the forums create a space for engagement and I dare say a sense of community.

Nor would I suggest that the Journal-World start determining which stories are allowed a forum, because as soon as they did no one would be happy and it would seem like they were enforcing a particular brand of free speech.

My suggestion is more based on one of using the technology available to make comments one click away. One click won't change a thing about anonymous posts, which are a different subject altogether. Doesn't alter the forum one bit. It merely moves the discussion to a step apart from the original story. The Economist employs this technology, as does the Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal makes them a separate tab.

My suggestion came out of empathy for the family and friends of Rachel Leek, who will be laid to rest today. The armchair detective and victim-blaming comments from the beginning of the story stayed on as the story shifted from a hit-and-run accident to the tragic death of woman who was someone's boyfriend, daughter, sister, coworker, friend. When you were 20 years old, did you not feel invincible at some point? Were you never reckless, never hitchhiked, never walked alone, never had a drink, never broke a rule? You live to tell the tale.

In the land of idealism, unicorns and rainbows, I'd hope for more civil discussion, not just in this forum but anywhere people verbally joust. It makes for a much more interesting discussion, a weighing of ideas. Alas that is not to be. I would wager that most of us suffer from a bit of Warnock's dilemma, always looking for that reaction.

Robert Marble 8 years, 7 months ago

requiring that people posting do so under their real name instead of an alias would be a good way to start....but many here would fear that.

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