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Ah, for the good old days when readers had no voice. The New York Times's Public Editor's column this Sunday focused on the Times' herky-jerky efforts to incorporate comments pages and reader response areas on their site, including last week's quiet enabling of reader comments on some articles and editorials.

The money quote, from the editor of the Times' political blog, The Caucus, on (mean and nasty) commenters:

"I almost wish we could go back to the days when we never heard their voices."

Part of the reason for all this angst is that the Times moderates all comments that are posted in the site. In fact, the Times is boldly entering the 21st century ass-backwards, by "creating a comment desk, starting with the hiring of four part-time staffers, to screen all reader submissions before posting them, an investment unheard of in today's depressed newspaper business environment."

There might be a good reason no one else has a four man comments desk.

NEXT: John Edwards vs. the Lobbyists

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  1. “I almost wish we could go back to the days when we never heard their voices.”

    I guess Edward must post there as well.

    If H&R opens a 4-person comments desk, I got dibs on one of the spots…

  2. “I almost wish we could go back to the days when we never heard their voices.”

    That customer complaint thing is sooo tiresome.

  3. i can’t blame them though. look at hit and run, man. when a mythical troll superhero gets created by a team of crackerjacks and results in a living exquisite corpse/performance art effort that would literally blow karen finley’s mind right out her fuckin’ eyesockets, you have to wonder just what the small-government fuck is going on.

  4. Thanks, New York Times, for a good laugh today

  5. Urkobold just hired a dedicated staffer to troll The New York Times ?

    dhex,

    Someday, people will have our postings hanging on their walls. Pathetic, really.

  6. Comments can easily get out of hand, especially for a highly trafficked website. Our local newspaper’s site was overwhelmed with rude and obnoxious commentary from high schoolers after an article regarding a fight on school grounds that led to a hospitalization. They eventually pulled the plug on the comments, and I don’t blame them. It’s to the media provider’s detriment to have their stories littered with “asshole” and “cocksucker” comments. It likely drives away the everyday reader.

  7. The shoddy state of journalism in today’s media entities has pretty much made the print news and tv news unreadable and unwatchable for me. I wish my local newspaper would add a comments section so I can tear their editorials to shreds. I live in Florida and we recently had Bill McCollum write an editorial about Marijuana McMansions read it it’s worth a laugh and some outrage. Nothing like shoddy journalism and demagoguery to inform the populace of the press’ worth.

  8. Someday, people will have our postings hanging on their walls. Pathetic, really.

    if by pathetic you mean guided by the hand of god, then i agree.

  9. That’s real funny, Taktix. You’re almost as lame as ProLib and the rest of the wacky Urkobold jerks.

  10. OOPS I should have made it clear that the last comment was for informed readers to know the press’ worth

  11. MP is right. Comments are a disaster for newspapers. Read any site that has them — they’re a mess. There’s no sense of community like you have here. There’s all kinds of borderline libel, which newspapers are understandably reluctant to publish. The NYT has a brand to worry about — that’s why they only pick the pithiest letters to the editor. An unmoderated comments board would be a huge detriment to that. Plus, it would be unreadable. There’d be 1,000 comments on any controversial story.

  12. All the comments that a dedicated comment desk has deemed worthy to allow.

  13. When Freakonomics blog went to NYT, the comments went to hell.

  14. Well, the NYT so brilliantly led the way with Times Select that one just has to assume they’re on the right track here, and that all other newspapers will follow in the Grey Lady’s footsteps, once again.

  15. My local paper (the Times-Dispatch) has one blog done by one of their editorial writers with comments, and most are actually pretty sane. Its cool that the guy who does the blog is a libertarian, too! Most of the editorial writers are absolute lock-step neocons.

  16. I would think that one moderator would be sufficient to remove profanity, libel, and 50,000-word moonbat screeds (all in caps, of course). You can edit that stuff out without killing the discussion. However, I think that any blog/message board that pre-screens comments is doomed to failure, since it seems like most posters (myself included) gravitate away from boards where their comments don’t show up immediately.

    Based on the NYT’s track record, one can probably expect the worst.

  17. That’s real funny, Taktix. You’re almost as lame as ProLib and the rest of the wacky Urkobold jerks.

    A ha! You’ve used my name without proper attribution. The lawyers shall come for you now! My, how the tables have turned.

  18. There might be a good reason no one else has a four man comments desk.

    I think Brad DeLong has something like this. Either that, or he has some cool program that can find and delete dissension.

  19. I generally have a hard time criticizing the New York Times for their online innovations (or lack thereof). They helped pioneer RSS feeds, which in my mind, has changed the way we all consume news and information forever, and for the better.

  20. Taktix:

    d00d – check out the spelling – Edweird. And the URL (merkinworld – one of the ones I use when using a parody name).

    Okay. Dan has a point.

  21. VM,

    I know. However, I am still holding Edward accountable.

    Whether he actually did or did not write this is irrelevant.

  22. How DARE a business attempt to control content on their own website! Any comment and or spam should be welcomed with open arms!

    Just more collectivist nonsense from Reason.

  23. Collectivist nonsense? Am I the only one who missed the part where Reason called on the state to enforce open comment threads?

  24. I have to agree. The comment section of a page as highly trafficked as the NYT would look like the evil love-child of DU and Freepers, with more obscenity.

  25. Lurker,

    The fact that the threads, if unmoderated, would explode into thousand-post white elephants is a very good reason to have unmoderated comments, actually.

    The Washington Post doesn’t moderate comments as far as I can tell, and the unwieldly nature of the resulting post quagmire on many articles makes the posts irrelevant.

    If you assign a staffer to weed out comments, that means that the newspaper is responsible for the posts that do make it. Surely this is a more dangerous position for the paper than simply to let all comments run free, and have them all choke each other into obscurity.

  26. The comment section of a page as highly trafficked as the NYT would look like the evil love-child of DU and Freepers, with more obscenity.

    Bug? or feature?

    If you assign a staffer to weed out comments, that means that the newspaper is responsible for the posts that do make it. Surely this is a more dangerous position for the paper than simply to let all comments run free

    Bingo. With comments moderation, the NYT has put itself in the position of approving all comments. Libel lawyers all over the Big Apple must be wetting themselves in anticipation.

  27. R C,

    There are some editorial rights that the Times can assert and still retain CDA Section 230 immunity for user comments. Not that I’d want to rely on that completely–the law isn’t entirely settled on Section 230.

  28. The NYT has a brand to worry about — that’s why they only pick the pithiest letters to the editor. An unmoderated comments board would be a huge detriment to that. Plus, it would be unreadable.

    That’s it exactly. They’re trying to separate the wheat from the chaff riff-raff.
    Can’t say I blame them. Trolls will have their feelings hurt. Tough titties.

  29. Since this is an unmoderated comment section, I’ve just decided to post a link to Garbage Tell Me Where It Hurts.

    Why? Because it’s awesome. Shirley Manson looks fabber then fab, and she’s seriously channeling Chrissy Hynde on the vocal. Don’t like it? Have me banned.

  30. “The irony of the Information Age is that it has given new respectability to uninformed opinion.”
    John Lawton as cited in Crichton’s “Airframe”

    Unedited blogs often devolve into a name calling, sh*t fest. While I leave it up to the owner, I mostly stay away due to the quote above. Reason is generally blessed in that sense.

  31. Ah, for the good old days when readers had no voice.

    So readers had no voice before the NYT gave them one last week?

    The pendulum has swung back quite a ways since the beginnings of the blog o’sphere, but it seems conventional wisdom still dictates that comments are part and parcel of the amazing conversation that we’re now all having online. The obvious problem here is that most comment threads are complete cesspools.

    Joel Spolsky has some apposite words. It seems that the places where comment threads actually work are where you have some semblance of a community. This blog is pretty good on that score.

  32. The places where comments work are mostly places where they’re heavily moderated.

  33. Tbone, Adam & pilight,

    Fuck you!

  34. The places where comments work are mostly places where they’re heavily moderated.

    No. You can’t fabricate quality with selective deletion where there is none.

    Try again. And this time, try channeling Wilhelm Reich. At least in that case you’d be having fun.

  35. I can’t blame the NYT. The fact is that most of the folks who comment on blogs don’t have anything to contribute. Witness H&R: while the quality here is much, much higher than on other comment-enabled blogs, there is still an inverse correlation between the popularity of the site and the quality of the comments.

  36. No. You can’t fabricate quality with selective deletion where there is none.

    Erm, not sure about that. You can improve the signal to noise ratio, which is the biggest challenge to communicating in the modern era.

  37. The paper around here has had a comments section for a while. They have 3 people, IIRC, who screen comments. When you’ve made at least 25 comments without posting anything offensive your posts are put up without screening. Recently they moved the comments on stories to a separate page.
    Maine Today Comments

    It seems to work okay. I’ve actually notice that people who post decent comments seem to drive out the trollish. A few people get in their RED TEAM! BLUE TEAM! GO TEAM GO! crap and then it ends up with myself and a few others discussing Article I Section 8 of the Constitution.

    Best comment to get by the screeners, the one by ezmover on this story:
    Case closed on cat-shaving dispute

  38. obligatory “garbage is the most aptly-named band this side of anal cunt” joke here.

  39. You can improve the signal to noise ratio

    Yes. There are ways to block noise, but if there were no signal to begin with you end up with silence or some guy waving his arms because the background radiation sounds like aliens trying to get him to <implausible scenario>.

    In other words: you can lead a little green man to your outhouse, but you can’t make him call it the best thing you’ve ever done to canned spinach.

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