Goff and Howard Public Relations / Public Affairs Logo

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Where are the comment police?

Heated debates are occurring in newsrooms across the state regarding when/how/if to let readers post online comments about stories. The Duluth News Tribune did some soul-searching recently about online comments that some say bordered on racist. It seems most papers, as they struggle to engage readers, feel the need to let readers have an open forum to say what they wish – usually without even having to post their real names. Then they are surprised when the discussion deteriorates quickly. We hear from clients who don’t even want to post credible online comments, because they don’t want to be in the company of inarticulate radicals. See where this is going? It’s not good. It’s time to reclaim this valuable online space.

Editors, who already have what appears to be an arbitrary process for deciding which stories merit online commenting and which don’t, should flex more muscle here. Just say no to comments that don’t add something valuable to the public discussion. Editors make subjective decisions every day about what stories to cover, which ones make the front page, and who gets to write on the editorial pages. Then why surrender so much control when it comes to online comments?