Commentz Korner: How do you moderate them?

[Smell test: Would you delete Cincinnati’s comment, above?]

Readers now leave hundreds of thousands of comments on stories, forums and blogs across Gannett’s growing number of websites — a big challenge to the relatively small number of employees responsible for moderating those comments.

“I’m not sure we’re doing it right, or that we should be doing some of it at all,” one moderator at a Northeast worksite told me in an e-mail. “All of us who moderate also have more than full-time print duties, so our application of Terms of Service is pretty spotty. I’ve encountered quite a few dilemmas in judging what posts sufficiently violate the uniform Gannett TOS to warrant deletion or more serious action. Our options for handling problem posters, as it turns out, are limited by Corporate to the point of a serious disadvantage.”

Do you have full-time or part-time moderators? Or do you leave that important job to readers? Plus: Got a crazy comment that made it past your site’s filters? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Image: screenshot of a comment I first flagged eight days ago, after finding it on The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s “moms” website]

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16 Responses to “Commentz Korner: How do you moderate them?”

  1. Jim Hopkins Says:

    Confidential to Cincinnati Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan: If you lost your breakfast over that comment, you can bet your readers did, too!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Initially, staff in my LIC (mid-size, East Group) were told that all writers were responsible for monitoring and responding to comments on their own stories.

    The “responding to” part faded so quickly that my boss was surprised a couple of months later to learn that I’d occasionally been answering readers’ questions and correcting major reader generated inaccuracies. (We also were told that we all needed to make daily checks of our one live cam to make certain nobody was “doing anything offensive” on it. Nobody checks.)

    Meanwhile, an Opinion Desk editor was tasked with monitoring readers’ forum and StoryChat comments. It was his understanding that he was supposed to find and zap all violations. Within. One. Hour. Of. Their. Appearance. That’s despite the fact that the nearby metro we’d modeled our site strategy after had recommend a 24 hour response for comments posted on weekdays, and Monday noon as deadline for anything from the weekend.

    The one-hour approach lasted until the first time a reader who often walked the fine line on the boards filed a marginally legit complaint about being TOSed for a comment. Soon afterward, we weren’t taking down questionable comments until they’d been reviewed by the DCCE, an AME, and the EE. You can imagine how efficient that is, making me wonder about how maybe we’d see more vision from our eds if they weren’t plunging themselves into such minutiae.

    Today, six months after it all began, here’s where we are. It’s rare that a reporter even looks at the comments on his/her stories, except maybe to laugh at one of the “village idiot” types. The deputy CC editor who worked extremely hard to establish and maintain our standards had his position eliminated in the first round of cutbacks, and no one has been named his successor as chief monitor. And on Friday, a comment that used “a******,” a major no-no in our conservative market, sat there for four hours before a writer tripped over it and told the web editor. He yanked it down.

    So, we’ve handled this pretty much like all the new initiatives we’ve rolled out in the past year.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    This isn’t about comments, but it is about the moms web sites. Did you know the locally branded sites are going the way of the dodo? In Louisville, KentuckianaMoms is now MomsLikeMe.com. It’s national branding, I suppose.

    Velocity.com, the entertainment site related to the weekly of the same name, was rolled into Metromix.

    So when will the pet sites follow?

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Moms site, forum comments—it’s all the same to readers who expect a news product when they visit the news sites.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    I’m not from the first commenter’s paper, but our reporters also were told at launch that they should monitor the posts on their stories. For the most part, that didn’t happen.

    Reporters and moderators who have interacted in the comments area to elaborate or clarify stories or why posts were removed learned quickly that some posters think nothing of making offensive personal attacks on us — hideous things they’d never say to anyone’s face. They’ve made me cry more than once.

    To let those posts stay up without reaction seems like enabling an infectious social ill. Our online editor won’t remove posts that abuse staff members. I think that should be the choice of the staff member being abused, though, not the company. Staff is not anonymous, and these embarrassing remarks about them are accessible by Google to anyone in the world.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Deleting a post may or may not remove it from a version of the page cached on the WWW or copied before the post was deleted and transmitted elsewhere.

    I feel strongly that staff should be allowed to use a pen name for certain purposes, including online conversations. It’s only fair. The pen names could be recorded with the EE for scrutiny but not made available to the public.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    We’re prohibited from deleting posts on stories even when their sole purpose seems to be to spread misinformation, as in one case where there is a judicial ruling and another where the factual error was corrected in a previous print edition of the newspaper.

    I think readers may have some expectation that comments made at the end of stories are accurate, because our TOS say we monitor comments — and the stories’ reporters and editors were supposed to be monitoring comments on their copy (they don’t, but the original plan was that they would guide those conversations).

    What does anyone else think about that?

  8. Anonymous Says:

    At my shop, moderators are given authority to pull comments at our discretion, but there are only two of us. Occasionally, an editor or reporter notifies us of a problem comment, and we handle it. But given that our main duties are not comment moderation, we mostly rely on readers to police themselves with the report abuse button and for the most part, it works fairly well.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    I’ve recently taken the approach of becoming a regular poster with a Gannett paper in a nearby market when I work at a different one. Of course, it’s an anonymous name. Whenever I get the chance to defend the industry or encourage people to buy papers instead of reading news online (such as when we publish something about yet another paper folding, Gannett cutbacks, etc.) I do. Nobody is the wiser. Does anyone else do this?

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Here’s a glimpse of life at tucsoncitizen.com. Note: I do not work in Tucson, nor do I know the columnist being attacked:

    “_____ continues to hear that clock ticking on her career. The only question will be if she still has a job by the time the election is over.

    48 days left…tick tock.”

    “_____ you have to be without question the worse and dumbest reporter on the Citizen staff. You waste more time dragging up worthless junk to cry over. When will you ever grow up? I don’t like the cartoons, and I don’t appreciate all the dumb jokes and cracks being made about Christians and their faith. However, in this stupid society we live in with people like you in charge of the newspapers what can you expect?
    Get a job somewhere else and shut up.”

    “Can everybody on both sides of the coin please agree that “_____” and “Tasteless Box” should never again appear in the same head-line?
    Just another fine product of the citizen op-(special)ed folks”

    All of these violate the TOS.

    But the most virulent attacks were getting thumbs-ups, and so weren’t hidden. One person who defended the writer was bombed with thumbs-downs and called a lying, ass-kissing “schitzo.”

    All this was because the columnist called the Obama Waffles racist.

    This is typical over at the Citizen. Readers have also been known to drag this columnist’s child into their attack posts.

    And speaking of kids, here’s what they’ll say about a child who was run over by a school bus:

    “WHOA, DUDE, THE HOMIE ON THE BIKE WAS RUN OVER BY THE REAR TIRES OF THE BUS ?

    THAT HAD TO BE A MUSHY SCENE !

    EEEEWWWWWW ………..

    ANYBODY GOT A WATER HOSE ?

    CAN WE GET SOME WATER SPRAYING OVER HERE ?”

    They stop at nothing. And nothing stops them.

    No “report this comment” buttons, no flags. You can give something a thumbs-up or down, but that’s all. If you want to complain, you have to send an email. Too much effort, and not anonymous. So stuff like this stays.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    All they want are ‘hits’ on the site. Isn’t it interesting that an old drug term is being used to talk about the Internet addiction of media execs.

    Sounds like someone thught they were at the truemomconfessions site.

    Maybe we should just really go for it and change the site name from moms like us to MILFS.com!!!

  12. Anonymous Says:

    “I’ve recently taken the approach of becoming a regular poster with a Gannett paper in a nearby market when I work at a different one. Of course, it’s an anonymous name. ”

    I do it at my own paper. Semi-anonymous, someone in the editorial staff looked up my email address and proceeded to ‘out’ me all over the newsroom. Knobs think they’re clever by calling me by my screenname as I walk through.

    However, I’m not known as an employee to the general public, and I push the paper, subscribing, and ‘their’ ability to print whatever ‘they’ deem is news. I see it as job security, and also clearing misconceptions about the paper that may exist.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    When we first started Topix, we got so many racist commenters that we just gave up. We found out later that our TV station had tried the Topix experiment in the past but had given it up for the same reason.

    Now, with Pluck, we do have some race-baiters, but for the most part people are at least somewhat civil. It is the one advantage of Pluck.

    We’re SUPPOSED to have a community producer in charge of a project team that helps, among other things, moderate comments, but they met once and that was it. It’s like OOH SHINY THING and suddenly no one cares until someone makes a racist or sexist remark.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    @10:15 – the staffers in Tucson are grownups. We can easily take what some random nabob online dishes out.

    @ 7:09 – being a sockpuppet isn’t cool. Unethical, much? If you’re a newspaper employee, represent yourself as such. Don’t pretend to be a member of the public.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    You know Jim, most readers don’t even know the papers are affiliated with the MOMS sites.From looking at Cincinnati.Com, I wouldn’t even know they had a connection.

    It seems very disingenuous of you to say that Moms comments and story comments are one and the same. They aren’t. If you read any traffic or visit reports from sites, you’d see the audiences are quite different.

    As for story comments – at my mid-sized paper we have a team of moderators that monitor abusive comments pretty much all day and night. It doesn’t seem to help much in correcting behaviors – the people on our site are abhorrent individuals.

  16. Jim Hopkins Says:

    1:52 pm: This post asks how Gannett websites moderate comments. At some papers, for example, a single person is responsible for monitoring all comments — no matter where they are.

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