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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Encouraging discourse, while keeping it civil

This morning I received a phone call from a reporter at another newspaper asking if I'd like to comment about Commissioner Ron Kim's press release.
Company policy generally sends requests for comment to the publisher, I said, adding, "What press release?"
A call to Kim's cell phone interrupted him at a public safety department budget meeting; he promised to have the release faxed to the newsroom and we would speak later.
The fax (which his campaign spokeswoman swears was supposed to have been sent to us, too) makes some reasonable comments in a needlessly adversarial way. The release makes it sound as though there has been a longstanding problem with racial slurs by commentors to online stories, and that no one did anything about them.
"For several months we have noticed an increasing number...." the press release begins, quoting spokeswoman Georgana Hanson.
Of course this concerns me as editor of The Saratogian. We are learning as we go, but we pay attention to complaints to comments.
In separate telephone conversations later in the day with Hanson and Kim, no one knew who the "we" is who had been noticing this for "several months." And neither could explain why no one reported the offensive comments. Every post after a story on our Web site offers readers the opportunity to report the comment as abusive. Personally, I tend to err on the side of taking a comment down. A couple of times, I banned an IP address whose owners were not content to merely be idiotic.
In an ideal world, we would have a staff person whose job was to review every submission ahead of posting, assess them and then either reject or publish them in timely fashion. To move the comment conversation along, instead we rely on community policing. You see a comment that's offensive, you report it, we act on it. It seems to work. But it does depend on community members taking the trouble to click "report abuse."
Kim wonders whether no one reported comments likening him to a Korean dictator because no one considered it so offensive that it should be removed. I agree with him: it is offensive, and I don't want such comments associated with The Saratogian.
You can criticize Kim and you can criticize me, and readers know that some of you out there have made that a part-time job. But credible criticism doesn't devolve into name-calling.


Blogger mary said...

I'm sending s copy of the comment I sent to Palazzo Pups - unfortunately when you just remove the offensive comments and don't mention that a comment has been removed - then the people who follow with a comment look ridiculous - no one can see what they're talking about - I stick with my opinion that people should leave their names - like all bullies people aren't so brave when they can't hide.

From Palazzo Pups:

" It's interesting - yesterday morning Tuna Breath wrote a vicious attack against me - calling me every nasty name in the book and telling me to get out of town - today the comment has been removed along with parts of other nasty posts. So anyone reading this would have no idea what I was talking about and assume that I was really over reacting. Why doesn't the Saratogian print people's names with their comments? If people had to provide their real names then perhaps these comments would be more meaningful (in letters to the editor that was always the case)- perhaps people would think before they wrote. The way it is now there really is no point in commenting as the paper can edit it any way they want. I worked in the media for years and have great respect for the people working hard behind the scenes but I will never post comments again unless names are required. It's been a good lesson. "

August 17, 2009 at 8:14 AM 
Blogger mary said...

Please use my last name also on the above comment:
Mary Chamberlain

August 17, 2009 at 8:19 AM 
Blogger demroc said...

it sometimes takes days for the saratogian to remove the offensive posts, after the damage has been done.

August 22, 2009 at 12:40 PM 
Blogger Horatio Alger said...


I'm sure you're well aware of my stance toward the Saratogian...but I gotta side with you guys on this one. Stand by your guns and protect unfettered dialogue.

BTW, that press release wasn't sent to you for a reason. Don't let Hanson convince you otherwise. I hoe you remember this when you're making endorsements this fall...

September 12, 2009 at 3:29 PM 
Blogger Horatio Alger said...


If the "report abuse" button doesn't work, there usually is someone at the newspaper for about 16 out of every 24 hours. There's always the old fashioned way of calling and reporting the abuse.

September 12, 2009 at 3:30 PM 

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