Star nixes comments; can you blame them?

keep calm comments

There used to be a twitter account called @avoidcomments. Unlike comments, it’s a great read, with tweets like:

don't readWere truer words ever spoken?

At the end of their monitoring tether, the folks at the Toronto Star acted on this unhappy state of affairs earlier this week by announcing they were closing the comments sections at thestar.com.

Editor Michael Cooke used words like useless, homophobic, racist “and in many cases just stupid” to describe the comments they were seeing and to explain the move – a move I can’t imagine anyone questioning.

Comments were grand when we all first gathered round the internet. It was a snappy, easy way to weigh in on stories and launch a debate or engage in witty repartee. Then, behind the shield of anonymity, cowards and bullies took over. Too bad.comments

The Star still wants feedback and discussion though, and will invite its audience to Twitter and Facebook to continue the conversation – as grownups.

Other media take different approaches. At the Globe & Mail, for example, those who’d like to comment are asked to register – which seems to keep the level of discourse more reasonable.

I just heard an interview with Marty Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post in which he said that although they were “dissatisfied” with having to watch the comments section so closely, they were keeping them open – for now – so that people can engage.

With the help of a grant from the Knight Foundation for Journalism, they are working with the New York Times and Mozilla on a project to, as he said, “bring the better comments to the surface”.  I look forward to finding out what comes of this.

Baron brought up another coping strategy – the one used by the movie and TV review site Rotten Tomatoes. They offer the designation super reviewer to proven, reliable sorts who have shown themselves to be trustworthy.

We’re all learning-as-we-go on this digital thing. Here’s hoping media companies can find a way to “open the phone lines” once again.


 

 

 

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