Archive for July, 2008

The case of the missing comments

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Add this one to the Be Careful What You Ask For file: allowing reader comments on anything you post online.

The News & Observer recently tweaked its web site to allow readers to comment on stories appearing there (an established practice elsewhere that took a mystifyingly long time to be put in place at the N&O, but that’s a topic for another day). On Monday, I noticed a particularly intense flurry of comments attached to one of the news stories about the melee at a local mall over the weekend. The more I read, the more raw the comments became. It was like reviewing a core sample of opinion from a sociological group that is, shall we say, happily unreconstructed.

Then, suddenly, all the comments were gone. Curious, I sent this note to the fellow who supervises the N&O’s online report:

What happened to the reader comments on the Triangle Town Center brawl story? When I looked earlier this afternoon, there were dozens. I just looked again, and there are perhaps four. And the earlier version of today’s story has none. Are reader comments wiped away when a story is updated, or was this a situation in which the comments were deemed to be too raw?

His reply:

I took down the forum on the earlier story because it had degenerated into an exchange of obscenities, for the most part. We were moderating the forum for a while, but very few of the comments were worthy of posting on our site, so I disabled it.

Then on Tuesday, one of the N&O’s top editors posted a more detailed explanation on the web site, saying in part:

The comments viewed were what one would expect to find on a Ku Klux Klan or Nazi site. The comment function no longer served any purpose other than to allow certain people to anonymously vent their racism, thus the decision to shut it down.

That’s largely accurate. But interestingly, the editor who posted that last explanation was mentioned by name in at least one of the offending comments I saw before they were deleted. As I recall, the comment was clearly disparaging of her performance, but not overtly racist. My point?

Let me just say, with envy, that in my 14 years at the N&O I was never granted the power to erase an unflattering reader comment about me from public view.