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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

News 2.Oh

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: WE DIDN'T SAY IT! SOMEONE ELSE SAID IT!!!

Before I begin, I will put up the standard disclaimer for the benefit of the Forces of Evil: I am not a lawyer or an expert on the legal implications of publishing material without editorial review.

A few days ago, I posted about a story in the Paper of Record that turned into a virtual graffiti board when the editors opened up the comment section and then apparently refused to moderate it.

This particular story hit home for me and several of my readers, but there is a legitimate journalism issue here: the publication of unreviewed reader comments.

As Russell Smith informed us a few months ago, when newspapers publish comments on their sites, it makes them innovative and cool. Just like bloggers, only WAY WAY cooler than loser bloggers who don't have columns in the Arts section of the Paper of Record.

This is a new issue: it wasn't even considered when I worked in the media. However, it is not really all THAT new, in the sense that news organisations have been accepting and publishing feedback for a very long time. Newspapers call this the letters to the editor section. CBC calls it Talkback. Either way, the idea is the same.

For several years, part of my job was to review and prepare Talkback for broadcast. This was usually the easiest thing I did all day. People would leave us messages; I would record them into our computer system, edit out any weird stuff, and write anything the host would need to say about the comments that had come in that day. Just about anyone could do it.

I did not, however, broadcast every message I received. Some people would call every day. Others were boring or off-topic. A few did not have anything to contribute: they simply repeated points other callers had made much more effectively. These messages were quickly deleted.

That was years ago. The Internet has made it possible to leave messages on news stories without a journalist's review. You can write ANYTHING on the MotherCorp's site or the Paper of Record's site.

This is one of the clearest indications that they still don't take the Internet seriously. It would never occur to the Paper of Record to publish any old opinion that came in the mail. I spent a summer working for a show that had a daily hour-long phone-in. All callers were screened. All calls were on a seven-second delay, and the host politely ended calls from people who were really stupid. This was standard then, and I'm sure it's standard now. There is no reason to turn your programming over to any idiot with a phone line.

The Internet is a new medium, but the same rules should apply. Idiots who want to post racist, hateful material should not find a willing partner in our national media.


CityStreams said...

Well said! You should post this as a comment on the forum.

scribe said...

I hope you convey your thoughts to the paper of record. What I've also noticed about newspaper internet comments, esp. the G&M's, is that it's often the same idiots writing in day after day after day. I really think you should have a column at one of Canada's esteemed dailies. You're incredibly astute!

Zachariah Wells said...

Hear, hear!

Matthew and Michele said...


Mongoose said...

Of course air time and page real estate are limited whereas server memory is dirt cheap these days so they actually have the resources, for once, to let everyone say whatever they want. And it's interesting that when you get the actual discussion rather than the editor reporting his/her choice of comments, it turns out that people didn't stop being racist and stupid just because the media stopped giving them a voice. It may be shocking but I think it's a much more realistic representation of the audience's reaction - so doesn't that make it better journalism?