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Hello, Lawrence! An introduction, and a change on LJWorld.com

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It’s been three weeks since I took over as digital editor of LJWorld.com and the Lawrence Journal-World, and in the whirlwind of starting a new job and clawing my way through the dozens of cardboard boxes that now clutter my home, I’ve neglected to say hello and introduce myself to you.

My most sincere apologies.

As Jonathan Kealing noted in September, I was a reporter for Journal-World – first as a general assignment reporter, then covering the education beat – before I went to cover news in Chicago. I worked most recently as online content producer for the Chicago Reader, the city’s venerable alt-weekly. I also covered public health for the online Chi-Town Daily News and wrote about the circus that is Chicago politics for the Chicago Current, a short-lived political journal. Along the way I freelanced for the Chicago Tribune, RedEye and other publications.

What Jonathan didn’t mention is that I’m taller than Chicago’s last two mayors, one of which castigated me at a press conference for a question he didn’t like. I’m friends with a friend of Steve Bartman. I grew up in Kansas City, Mo. The strangest interview I’ve ever done was with Ron Jeremy, who I believe recorded the conversation and was more candid than I care to remember. I was once within mere feet of the Stanley Cup and squealed with joy. I did. I squealed.

I’m quite pleased to return to Lawrence. I lived here for about two years, attending graduate school at Kansas University and then working for the Journal-World. In my time away, I’ve thought more and more about this town. I’ve thought about the ties that bind it together, from a unique homesteading history to the 2008 NCAA basketball championship (I still get chills from watching “The Shot”).

I’ve learned more about the social fabric of Lawrence (if you’ve not read “This is America?” you’re missing out.) And I’ve thought about how passionate people are about their town.

Yes, I’ve thought a lot about passion. That’s one reason I decided to return to Lawrence; people care deeply about what happens here. I feel very strongly about the role of local news organizations in a community. Yes, print journalism is in a tough spot, but journalists like the ones that work at the News Center are some of the smartest and most passionate people I know. You may not agree with everything that’s written in the Journal-World, but without it, there would be an unacceptable information void.

The passion Lawrencians have for their town is obvious on LJWorld.com. It shows up in different ways, such as the fantastic Dear Lawrence photo project. It is especially obvious in the hundreds of comments posted each day on this site.

The steady flow of discussion proves that people here believe their city, state and country can be a better place. I firmly believe that the exchange of viewpoints, opinions and facts can make us more informed, and perhaps even more enlightened.

But it also has its drawbacks. Too often, online discussions devolve into name-calling, unaccountable invective and general nastiness that take away from the communal experience of our lives in Lawrence. I simply ask you engage in respectful discussion with each other. Banter is one thing; cheap shots and derogatory insults are another.

You may have also noticed a change that occurred on LJWorld.com yesterday evening. We’re trying something new, and allowing only verified users to comment on stories such as those that involve a death under investigation or a sexual assault. These stories often attract the worst comments, those that are insensitive to grieving families or those that offer little more than baseless – and potentially libelous – speculation.

My hope is that users of these boards will foster a respectful and thoughtful exchange of ideas, even when other say things that are counter to their opinions or ideas. It’s very easy to fire back a knee-jerk reaction. It’s harder to sit for a moment and think how to best respond to a comment – if at all.

In my endeavor to keep LJWorld.com a welcoming community, there are a few things I won’t stand for. In the Harry Potter series, there are the Unforgiveable Curses, which result in death and maiming. Here, there are Unforgiveable Comments, which result in a comment’s removal and possibly banishment of the user who leaves them.

In accordance to the terms of service, comments that are libelous or defamatory are unacceptable. I hope you’ll refrain from racist, sexist or otherwise insensitive or unnecessarily needling comments, especially when it comes to our neighbors who find themselves in the paper, either by choice or not. “Outing” users by referencing what users may presume to be their real names will not be tolerated.

And I’ll ask that users stay on topic in discussions. Arguments between a few users or long missives that detract from the point waylay many discussions. If you see a comment that violates the terms of service, please flag it for removal. Together we can make LJWorld.com, KUSports.com, Lawrence.com, WellCommons and Sunflower Horizons fun places where we can learn from each other.

I think these are fair parameters, and I think the overall community appreciates having a spot to discuss the news of the day. No doubt you’ll disagree with some of my decisions down the line, but I invite you to message me through the site or email me at aparker@ljworld.com; I’m happy to explain my position and listen to yours.

I’ve enjoyed interacting with some of you so far, and look forward to getting to know this community better.

Comments

cornflakegirl 3 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for the wise and positive changes. This should make viewing ljworld a better experience for us (and for you!)

Shane Garrett 3 years, 2 months ago

Just in time for Holloween Damian666? Cute. Anyway, JLW should be the better with your watchful eye Mr. Parker.

newguy 3 years, 2 months ago

Could we do away with the comments altogether?

EastCoaster 3 years, 2 months ago

I agree. Nobody will miss anything as no real dialogue takes place on the comments section because of a handful of polarizing trolls who seek to derail and belittle anyone who doesn't share their constipated points of view.

Or how about this: limit comments to one post per user/IP address per article. I say IP address because most of these trolls are clever enough just to grab multiple user IDs. And yes some people like husbands and wives might want to post from the same IP so why not post one comment for the whole family? Heaven forbid people who live together agree on something.

irvan moore 3 years, 2 months ago

you seem like nice kid alex, i hope when reality sets in you will be ble to retain your positive outlook.

Kathy Getto 3 years, 2 months ago

Welcome, Alex! I look forward to your positive outlook for the comments sections. A wise decision to limit the comments on deaths and sexual assaults. I am curious about what happens when a non-verfied user attempts to post on one of these stories - will their post count go up, without showing the content of their post?

classclown 3 years, 2 months ago

On the subject of "outing" a user.

There are some people here that seem to enjoy nothing more than "outing" a user as a previous user under a different user name. In some cases that person is known by their actual name.

For instance, Sven Alstrom has posted here under a plethora of names. It has become a sport amongst some to point him out whenever they see him reincarnated under a new persona. Is that considered "outing" to point him out by referencing one of his previous user names knowing that most people here would understand that the person being referenced was Sven Alstrom thereby violating the TOS?

As I said, there are some people here that have nothing better to do than to "out" people as being former users which in many cases would mean "outing" their real names.

A

gl0ck0wn3r 3 years, 2 months ago

As I understood it, Sven has been perma-banned from the site except for when he was running for public office.

classclown 3 years, 2 months ago

Getting rid of threads would be a big plus also. I believe all of these "outers" are threaders as well. Get rid of threads and you will get rid of threaders. And the "outers" will no longer have anywhere to hide. :Þ~

d_prowess 3 years, 2 months ago

I have to say I was very disappointed to see the requirement of being a Verified User in order to post to the story yesterday about the 4 year prison term for the 20yr old that had a relationship with a 15 yr old. I had no strong opinion on that particular story, I just thought that it was an unfortunate change of policy by the LJW. I view it as just a lazy approach to handling the comments on those stories. As you mention above, you have comment rules in place. If you stick to those rules, like your predecessors, you shouldn't have to worry about discussions getting out of hand. Does that mean it is more work? Definitely, but that open and evolving environment is what draws many people to your site repeatedly over the course of the day (which we know drives page views and advertising rates).

I also think that this new approach is essentially saying that unless you are willing to be publicly recognized in your comments here, your comments have no value and are not worthwhile. There are many different reasons why people choose to stay anonymous on this site and I don't believe that making that decision should make someone a less important member of the online community and restrict their participation of any discussion.

Alex Parker 3 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for your comment, d_prowess. Two things: First, the amount of work that goes into moderating comments was never part of the discussion regarding this new policy. It is not and has not been a concern of ours. Secondly, we put enormous value on the input and participation of users. This is simply a measure to ensure some sort of reasonable conversation and accountability for what people say. As I mention above, stories like that often draw the worst sort of comments.

Our intention is not to push users away, but merely to improve upon the level of discussion on this site.

killjoy 3 years, 2 months ago

I agree with adding controls to some of the articles. The comments really don't add to the articles that cover serious injury/ death situations. Thanks!

I also don't understand why some not appreciate the ability to "thread" or "reply" to a specific post. If we have the technology, let's use it. Let's not step back in time to the days when it was not available.

d_prowess 3 years, 2 months ago

Ok, so you say the workload was not part of the decision. Fine..., but you say this is "simply a measure to ensure some sort of reasonable conversation and accountability for what people say." Isn't reasonable to assume that a moderator like yourself can do this, along with the other members being able to suggest removal of comments?

And as far as reasonable conversation, why do you need to be a verified user to achieve that? Again, I still feel like you have made the decision that those stories involve death and sexual assault are too burdensome to monitor and so you are taking the easy way out by saying only someone that is willing to be public can be part of the discussion and everyone else we just have to assume will be unreasonable.

And as for the "accountability" that you mention, what makes someone with their name being verified more accountable than someone that doesn't. Wouldn't you ban someone quickly for an inappropriate comment no matter what their user status? Or are you just making the assumption that people with their names out there have more to lose and will be less likely to speak their mind?

Kathy Getto 3 years, 2 months ago

There are many reasons people choose to remain anonymous and just as many for the folks who prefer to be verified. In certain cases - being verified has been a protective measure based on protective orders, a measure which can be successful. I don't think the LJW is leading up to requiring every user be verified, it would be harmful to the success of the forum and subsequent "clicks for bucks". Relax, there will be a more harmonius outcome. :-)

DennisAnderson 3 years, 2 months ago

Actually, it wasn't that the verified comments didn't work on WellCommons, our WC community advisory group recommended that people have the chance to remain anonymous given the sensitive nature of some of the stories people wanted to tell. Dennis Anderson Managing Editor

d_prowess 3 years, 2 months ago

Dennis, so you agree... verified comments didn't work.
People had their reasons to remain anonymous and without that option, they stopped participating. Thus the verify comments idea didn't work.

classclown 3 years, 2 months ago

If the LJW wants people to eventually all be verified in order to post comments, then you will need to purge all the current users and comments out of the system and start anew.

There are several people I can think of that would find themselves the subject of harassment because of their views. As well as several who wouldn't dare to give up any personal information about themselves due to their comments and actions here as it could very well mean more than just harassment for them.

To do otherwise would mean the LJW is "outing" them to their enemies.

DennisAnderson 3 years, 2 months ago

I think we need to remember that the victim of the ATV accident has a family and the work of "junior investigators" who might say some insensitive things would not advance the story or improve our understanding of what happened in the tragic case. Dennis Anderson Managing Editor

d_prowess 3 years, 2 months ago

So the LJW should start to censor stories because there is a chance something insensitive could be said by someone and someone else might be offended? Who is the moral compass to make these decisions?

And let's be honest... what percentage of the comments on stories on the LJW online actually "advance the story or improve our understanding of what happened?" So please do not stand on that rationale as a reason for this change!

Katara 3 years, 2 months ago

If you are so concerned about the feelings of family and friends, you could always just not publish the story.

Ceallach 3 years, 2 months ago

Good question, prospector! Can't wait to hear read the answer.

Alex Parker 3 years, 2 months ago

No, Class Clown is not a verified user. Class Clown inputted that "name" in the first and last name fields, while anonymous users have not.

irvan moore 3 years, 2 months ago

one of the downsides to "a new guy" is that he may want to fix things that aren't broken

Alex Parker 3 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for the comment, prospector. I'll mention it to our web developers, and put it on a list of suggested improvements.

gl0ck0wn3r 3 years, 2 months ago

"long missives that detract from the point waylay many discussions."

Good luck on this.

Ceallach 3 years, 2 months ago

Guess this means I will have to stop whining about my job . . bummer!

classclown 3 years, 2 months ago

gl0ck0wn3r (anonymous) replies…

As I understood it, Sven has been perma-banned from the site except for when he was running for public office. October 21, 2011 at 2:04 p.m.

===================================

That's just the name that popped into my head at the moment. Let's suppose someone is "outed" as formerly being rightthinker. Or suppose merril for some reason ends up with a new user name. would "outing" anyone as being either of them be the same as "outing" someone with their real names? Pretty much everyone knows what their real names are.

Frankly, I don't see where anyone not on the LJW staff should take it upon themselves to post what previous names a current user has posted under. They can inform the man in charge if they feel it's their civic duty to do so, but they don't need to follow anyone around replying to all their post what the person's previous name was.

Alex Parker 3 years, 2 months ago

classclown, that's my interpretation of the TOS.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 2 months ago

They don't always come back and create a new username. I know someone that has two usernames at the moment.

RoeDapple 3 years, 2 months ago

Welcome Alex! Hey . . . ever play any sandbar golf?

classclown 3 years, 2 months ago

<--- In honor of Alex's strangest interview.

LadyJ 3 years, 2 months ago

Is smitty, and other YH people, going to continue to be allowed to hijack articles to bash law enforcement and post long rants about YH? If you want to improve the website, do something about smitty.

jafs 3 years, 2 months ago

Good luck Alex!

I hope that the conversations on here improve in quality as a result of your efforts.

Amy Heeter 3 years, 2 months ago

Much ado about nothing. Comment as you can and move on.

Kathy Getto 3 years, 2 months ago

So true about that "O thing" haha

Thank goodness Don John was exposed in the end. The truth always wins out, doesn't it? :-)

sad_lawrencian 3 years, 2 months ago

The Grammar Nazi strikes again! "...but journalists like the ones that work at the News Center are some of the smartest and most passionate people I know..." should be "...but journalists like the ones who work at the News Center are some of the smartest and most passionate people I know...

And one suggestion, when is the LJWorld going to get with modern times and let users remove (delete) or edit their comments? And better yet, when will we finally be able to remove (delete) unwanted emails from the "inbox" application? I know Management has/had their reasons for not allowing users' deletion of comments, but honestly it has always been a disservice to the end user.

sad_lawrencian 3 years, 2 months ago

No. In fact, if you can point out where that "inbox" delete function is located, I would be much obliged!

verity 3 years, 2 months ago

Agreed. It's easy to make another post correcting an error.

If edit/delete is instituted, people could go back and change or delete their posts after they've been caught falsifying information or being irrational.

grammaddy 3 years, 2 months ago

Welcome aboard, Alex.Fasten your seatbelt. Good luck with the new gig.

Boston_Corbett 3 years, 2 months ago

I hope someone gave Alex the whole file on the LJW's designated ideal forum poster: the basement lounging car/nazi/gun nut, and nine-fingered self-proclaimed internet spammer. And his BBFL, the Cool architect without a degree.

The file would weigh several pounds.

I more than agree with filtering on articles relating to untimely deaths. Block all comments on those articles, as far as I am concerned.

Liberty275 3 years, 2 months ago

"allowing only verified users to comment on stories such as those that involve a death under investigation or a sexual assault. These stories often attract the worst comments"

That's a little unfair. While I'm probably not the sunshine of most people's day, I restrain myself well when a story involves a death or sexual assault. In case of death, I'll offer my condolences and generally shut up. Regarding any assault, I usually just remind everyone a defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

You should rethink your blanket policy and deal with the accounts that post tasteless comments in those very serious threads. As a journalist, you are probably sensitive to prior restraint, but your new policy is not far removed from just that version of censorship.

Anyway, Hi. Have a nice day.

mom_of_three 3 years, 2 months ago

I will never post with my real name, because of the safety issues listed above (there are wackos that can track you down or send you hateful letters - they do it to your email listed, why not worse with your real name) and because of my kids. These comments HAVE been used in school to discuss issues (because my kid came home one day and mentioned it because the kid knows my online name). I wouldn't want someone to hold anything I say against my friends or my family simply because it was my opinion.
Like liberty, I also use restraint on articles involving death and other sensitive matters. Why should it matter if I use my name or not?
I liked the way the LJW handle online comments previously. Most comments people objected to were removed.

verity 3 years, 2 months ago

Welcome Alex!

I don't pay your salary, so I won't tell you how to do your job.

Good luck.

rockchalker52 3 years, 2 months ago

I guess I can't see for nuthin these days. All this time I thought your handle was 'verify' Considering the topic, that would be a lol hoot.

verity 3 years, 2 months ago

That made me laugh---now that I think about it, verify might have been a better choice, certainly good advice.

Katara 3 years, 2 months ago

Verification doesn't mean squat as there is no way for LJW to really verify the person.

The person wishing to be verified provides the contact number & the email address. LJW merely contacts that person by that information to "verify".

Anyone can submit any name they want and as long as they answer the contact number or the contact email as that name, how is LJW going to really know they are who they claim to be?

Or are you going to go all Kris Kobach on us and start requiring photo id to register?

Liberty275 3 years, 2 months ago

You can use a fake name on the internets? Isn't that like dividing by zero or something?

Katara 3 years, 2 months ago

They only work if you are wearing those fake glasses/nose/mustache combos and are behind 7 proxies.

pace 3 years, 2 months ago

Thank you. The change on stories with victims and death of children are especially welcome. Good luck.

gl0ck0wn3r 3 years, 2 months ago

Personally, I'd like to see the ability to ignore user posts by user name. I think if you added that functionality you'd see quite a bit of the bickering go away because users could block another user and not even see their posts.

Boston_Corbett 3 years, 2 months ago

I've been suggesting that for a long time. I bet I could save the lives of several trillion billion electrons by muting Merrill's posts.

Flap Doodle 3 years, 2 months ago

I'd vote against letting posters edit/remove their own posts. Once you hit that submit button, the post is there for everyone to see. Secondly, due to the threatening nature of some ex-posters who probably still read this site, I would never post here under my real name.

labmonkey 3 years, 2 months ago

If Merrill believed in owning guns, you would be his first target.

jafs 3 years, 2 months ago

I suggest flagging any posts you find offensive that you think may violate the tos.

And, not reacting to them in kind.

been_there 3 years, 2 months ago

Oh look, fodder. Oh, and isn't that cute, smitty has a friend.

RoeDapple 3 years, 2 months ago

You seem to like naming names thuja. Who are these superior people (other than yourself, of course) who are more worthy? What makes them, you know, a cut above? Political affiliation? Religion (or lack of)? Education? Skin pigmentation?

Got news for ya. I was here before you, I'll be here long after you're gone. Don't like it? There's the door - - -

Alex Parker 3 years, 2 months ago

I disagree, Gandalf. There have been nearly 500 comments on this site today alone, and nearly 1,300 yesterday. The policy has been implemented on just two stories.

beatrice 3 years, 2 months ago

",,,comments that are libelous or defamatory are unacceptable..." So calling President Obama a Muslim Nazi Socialist Antichrist "thug" from Kenya is unacceptable now, since it is, quite obviously, defamatory? Cool. That should help weed out some of the walking dead. Or is the intention to not really enforce the non-defamatory language clause when discussing national figures?

Other observations: Real sports fans should think it an absolute shame that we know Steve Bartman's name at all. I hope he knows that.

As we have seen on several occassions, requiring verification to post won't improve the level of discourse. Also, often times there is nothing funnier and/or more outrageous than people who self identify as a relative of a news story.

Hope you enjoy the new position.

labmonkey 3 years, 2 months ago

Or referring to Tea Party members using a sexually explicit term... for some reason you seem to not mention that. I thought you said you were going to be more civil after the Giffords shooting.

beatrice 3 years, 2 months ago

There are many potentially insulting things I did not mention: that does not mean I condone those not listed. Since January, where do you find me calling Tea Party members anything but Tea Party members or Tea Partiers?

labmonkey 3 years, 2 months ago

Your complaint seemed rather one-sided. If you are calling attention to the idiotic insults that come from those you don't agree with, you should also call attention to the idiotic insults from those on your side of the spectrum or call attention to neither.

You have been more civil and I commend you on that.

beatrice 3 years, 2 months ago

The example was indeed one-sided, but the sentiment was not intended to be. It would apply to any who use idiotic insults, left, right, libertarian or center. I think we can have a lot more interesting discussions if we weren't trying so hard to call someone else a doodie-head.

Thanks for recognizing the honest attempt at civility.

Katara 3 years, 2 months ago

None of those comments are libelous or defamatory. They are just childish insults.

Flap Doodle 3 years, 2 months ago

This comment pre-removed.... oh, you know the rest.

labmonkey 3 years, 2 months ago

Alex-

Welcome to the fray. A couple things I would like to comment on...

1) Please don't be too harsh on comment threads going off on tangents. The OTS threads, which will usually have nothing to do with the actual OTS by comment 10 the most fun places on the site and I bet one of the places that bring back eyeballs and clicks.

2) Although I see people on both ends of the political spectrum say stupid things and make insults, it seems like those on the left receive a little more slack... i.e. referring to Tea Party members using a sexually explicit term is deemed acceptable, while a left wing movent being called a similar name would be quashed.

3) Can we please, for the love of god, have the system clear out posts that are word for word identical? This might save gigabytes on the LJworld system in removing thousands of posts from a famous cut-n-paster on the site.

beatrice 3 years, 2 months ago

Funny, because I see those on the right being given far more slack. Guess it is in how you read it. Just know that when someone is using terms that are clearly intended to be insulting, then that person isn't trying to engage in conversation or debate. Also, give what you would like in return.

Liberty275 3 years, 2 months ago

Funny, because I don't see anyone getting enough slack.

beatrice 3 years, 2 months ago

Are you trying to out yourself as a centrist? : )

classclown 3 years, 2 months ago

Agnostick (anonymous) replies…

Or are you perhaps thinking of stories that usually generate a lot of (intellectually-)empty comments? October 22, 2011 at 4:57 p.m.

==================================

I think that's exactly it. Alex wants people to stay on topic so that means no more going off on a tangent about aliens landing in the yard and knocking on the back door wanting to probe the dog by someone who starts his drinking early.

Or insipid stories about cuzins getting together for biscuits.

Forcing commenters to stay on topic rather than spew out one vacuous comment after another will make some comment sections seem empty.

geekin_topekan 3 years, 2 months ago

Alex, do you own cats?

There is nothing manlier than cat ownership.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 2 months ago

geekin_topekan, I think you have a conceptual misunderstanding.

It's not that owning a cat is a manly thing. It's the admission that you are a cat owner that is manly.

classclown 3 years, 2 months ago

geekin_topekan (anonymous) says…

Alex, do you own cats?

There is nothing manlier than cat ownership. October 23, 2011 at 11:05 a.m.

  RonHolzwarth (Ron Holzwarth) replies…

  geekin_topekan, I think you have a conceptual misunderstanding.

  It's not that owning a cat is a manly thing. It's the admission that you are a cat owner that is manly.
  October 23, 2011 at 5:59 p.m.

============================================

I'm confused. Since when has a person ever owned a cat? It was always my understanding it was the cats that owned the people.

hail2oldku 3 years, 2 months ago

Hey Alex,

How about getting the "Popular" tab fixed. Way too many old polls and OTS questions out there instead of current stories with active comments on them.

Alex Parker 3 years, 2 months ago

It's on our list of things to fix, hail2oldku. Thanks for letting us know.

lunacydetector 3 years, 2 months ago

i appreciate your impartiality on these forums. i recall a baby lib who moderated in the past who seemed to only censor a conservative point...almost like a conservative writing into the huffington post, but the jw at least let the conservative view stay up briefly...but she's no longer the moderator so i'll stop, and i was only a spectator when she was in charge.

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