The Internet provides the immediacy and broad reach that enable newspapers
to serve as a dynamic forum on local and national issues. The challenge
continues to be how to keep the conversations stimulating, enlightening, timely
— and civil.
Commenters often provide additional insight, point out errors and suggest
good follow-ups, all of which are helpful and welcome.
And then there are the other ones.
For months, Online Editor Emily Donohue monitored comments posted to
stories on The Saratogian website throughout the day. A handful of commenters
monopolized an inordinate amount of her workweek in her admirable quest to
maintain courtesy and encourage civility in a mostly free-wheeling format.
Donohue moved on to other adventures a few weeks ago, so I’ve been relying
more heavily on you, readers, to flag offensive, angry, off-topic comments.
With the online editor position open, I’ve been monitoring comments and
reviewing those that go into a holding cue pending approval.
Some are fine. Many are, well, … shame on you.
While I love to engage with readers, I have neither the time nor
inclination to engage with commenters, especially anonymous ones, who
intentionally misuse the opportunity.
Personal attacks (particularly about other commenters), foul language
(blatant or thinly di$gui$ed), name-calling and incessant nastiness prompt me not
merely to delete comments, but to blacklist commenters. (If you are not
successful at flagging a comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, expect comments to be closed on things like stories about crime and
politically charged opinion page pieces that bring out the worst of the worst. We’re
still the place for your non-anonymous opinions, which you can send to
Not everyone gets the hook without
a warning. Last week I emailed a commenter letting him specifically know why I
was going to delete a comment. “You are welcome to resubmit without the
name-calling,” I wrote.
His response: “Thank you but I will not resubmit
anything to your paper, the censorship shown by you is intolerable and I will
no longer submit or read anything in The Saratogian.”
Censorship? My first responsibility is to The Saratogian and its credibility,
not to people who mistakenly think any newspaper is obligated to publish
whatever is submitted.
When I write editorials, I strive to avoid name-calling and other cheap
shots that would diminish my point or the potency of the position being
presented. Readers should strive for the same — or at least stay out of the
A related issue facing reporters everywhere is if, when and how to respond
to comments on their stories. The other day reporters participated in a live
chat on that topic hosted by an editor at the Daily Freeman in Kingston, one of our sister publications under the umbrella of
Digital First Media.
A couple of reporters on the chat summed up the why and how: Responding
“shows readers we’re interested in what they have to say, and helps them understand
we’re more than bylines,” wrote one; responses “should be professional, obviously,
and NOT be about having the last word. Let the reporting and info speak for
themselves,” added another.
But, asked one reporter, “Should you defend yourself/the paper if people
bash you relentlessly?” If it’s relentless, it’s time to call in the managing
editor to either respond or hit delete.
Occasionally, a reader rescues a reporter from undue criticism. Last week
someone had the gall to chastise a reporter and this newspaper for not having a
pre-dawn fire reported on the website until early morning.
A gallant reader quickly defended the right of journalists to be asleep at
four in the morning. I didn’t respond then so I will now: Thank you, sir.