Editor's Note: On comments

Editor's Note: On comments

Michele Ellson

Over these past few months, we’ve reported on a series of hot-button local issues that have included an election, rising rents and the selection of a new school board member. The stories have generated a lot of reader interest – and a growing number of anonymous personal attacks have been posted into our comments queue.

As someone who has edited local news websites for nearly seven years, I can tell you that there are few parts of the job that are more challenging than managing reader comments in a way that is respectful of both the commenter’s thoughts on a public figure or issue and the writers, staffers and policymakers who are on the receiving end.

One of our goals at The Alamedan is to provide a safe space for people to engage constructively on local issues; personal attacks discourage engagement and destroy the sense of community we are working assiduously to build. I think they also narrow the pool of people who are willing to enter public life by joining a board or running for the City Council. How many are willing to subject themselves and their families to this type of harassment?

Over my years of writing and editing local news I have tried my Solomonic best to balance these competing and equally valid interests, and I’ll admit that I don’t always strike the balance right. But some of the vitriol I’ve encountered over the past few months (and its evil twin, spam) have prompted some big changes in the way we’ll been handling comments from now on.

As some of our most avid readers and commenters have noticed, I’ve been closing comments on most of our posts after three days. There are two reasons for this. One is to cut down on the avalanche of spam that we experienced on and off over the course of the past year. The other is to cut down on the personal attacks that seem to take root and intensify after a story has been up for a few days.

The three-day rule isn’t totally hard and fast – I still haven’t closed comments on Dave LeMoine’s introductory piece about his youth on Bay Farm Island, which provoked a massive outpouring of positive response, but felt forced to shutter comments on last week’s piece about the selection of a new school board member after a single day when someone (anonymously) accused a school board member of being part of the Ku Klux Klan. That said, it’s something I will adhere to for most of our posts.

We’ll continue to refrain from publishing comments that don’t meet our standards (or editing them if most of what’s in them does meet our standards). But from now on, anonymous personal attacks will be marked as spam before they’re deleted.

So now that we’ve laid down some new ground rules, I want to be clear about what’s okay to post in the comments section and what isn’t.

1. I’d prefer it if you would use your real, full name to comment (though I’m not yet requiring it). Using anonymity to offer factual information that adds to a story we’ve posted is okay; using it to bash someone is not.

2. Focus your comments on the subject of the story.

3. You can attack someone’s position, actions, or point of view, but don’t attack them personally. Remember that the person you so ardently disagree with may be your neighbor, your financial advisor, you daughter’s softball coach, or an officer in your school’s PTA. They are part of your community.

As always, I want to thank everyone who is engaged in the issues we’ve written about over the years and those of you who have helped us build community by offering your opinions in a thoughtful and constructive manner; The Alamedan is here to serve all of you. As always, I welcome your thoughts on our comment policies and ways we could improve them; feel free to drop me a line below or via e-mail, at michele@thealamedan.org.

Comments

Submitted by David (not verified) on Tue, Feb 10, 2015

Michele,

Would you consider adding notes to comments that you edit, indicating that you have edited them?

I know that in the past you have edited my comments (for reasons beyond my comprehension, but, hey, it's your website), and on a couple of occasions have changed the meaning as a result.

It's your site, your rules, but I think it's disservice to readers and contributors if you don't make an annotation of some kind that a comment has been edited.

Submitted by Carol Fairweather (not verified) on Tue, Feb 10, 2015

Thank you, Michelle!

Submitted by nora (not verified) on Wed, Feb 11, 2015

Just add this: (edited) after the poster' nom de plume. That's how it's been done everywhere else on the Internet (eg. YouTube) for years.