Thursday, April 29, 2010

Online Forums Controversy

I've posted extensively over at my personal blog here.

I believe in open discussion, I believe in free speech. And I believe that free speech has limits, as does the Supreme Court. That said, I was disappointed yet elated to see LNP take the forums down. Disappointed because the forums could at times be very valuable and a lot of people enjoyed them. Further, there was a compromise, and I think taking them down entirely was an overreaction.

Elated because the people--including kids reading articles--no longer have to see the racist and bigoted comments that characterize so many of the forum threads. That kind of crap poisons the community and brings us all down, and the online community was not moderating itself.

It will be interesting to see the newspaper's online strategy going forward. Hopefully it includes an online discussion forum and excludes the racism and bigotry.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a childish thing to do by LNP. And to throw you under the bus to justify their removal of TalkBack functionality from the website is just cowardly. If you are truly that powerful to make them run in fear, then dude, you are awesome. However, I feel that there is something in the background that has driven their decision, and that they have conveniently used your openness and willingness to put your name to the issue as the excuse to deactivate TalkBack.

    This act in itself captures perfectly the growing problem with social discourse that we have in our society today. We find it harder and harder to engage opposing viewpoints, to debate, to consider, and yes, even to compromise. Our society has become one of zero tolerance in the name of protecting “good”, whatever that means. But action without debate, enforcement of rules without context is nothing more than a thin veil hiding the underlying moral cowardice that spawns such actions. But I digress…. LNP appears to have chosen the easy way out – ending TalkBack – rather than the harder, more responsible path that leads to discussion and engagement with all sides of this issue.

    I agree, most of TalkBack is nothing more than the inane chatter of faceless masses, more emotional release than considered thought. It captures the outbursts of the jeering crowds as the criminals are paraded past their virtual windows. I don’t blame that on the members though. I believe that it has a lot to do with the nature of LNP’s reporting and the way in which they have deployed TalkBack.

    First, LNP emphasizes crime. Crimes, and even disciplinary problems at local schools, ALWAYS are in the section “Local News” despite there being a section dedicated to “Crime”. Crime makes me upset. And LNP’s placement of crime coverage reinforces negative stereotypes of Lancaster and its residents. It also displaces positive stories, reinforcing the negative cycle. I feel this is wrong and contributes to the problem.

    Second, LNP enabled TalkBack for ALL stories, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Not all stories warrant a discussion. TalkBack was at its worst when comments were made on the crime stories. There was no discussion, no exchange of ideas. TalkBack in this case captured the emotional responses of members and in many, many cases this was just plain ugly and had no redeeming quality. However, TalkBack was at its best when members used it to discuss highly charged issues like local politics, the downtown convention center or city finances. I learned a lot, read many different opinions, and felt that in many cases TalkBack provided better coverage than LNP reporting.

    A case in point is the New York Times. Their comment feature is turned on only for selected articles. They control it, and they monitor it actively. They don’t turn it on for crime articles. They don’t allow it to become a forum for haters. And they certainly haven’t shut it down because of complaints – they have an ombudsman whose job it is to deal with complaints and work out solutions.

    So I challenge LNP to engage the community on this issue rather than to stand by this cowardly decision. They should bring back TalkBack but turn it on only for those articles where DISCUSSION is called for. LNP, you have done some good investigative reporting recently on issues other than crime – focus TalkBack on these types of stories. When you focus your reporting on daily crime to the exclusion of other issues, you too are playing a role in poisoning our town and reinforcing stereotypes of Lancaster and its citizens. I think we’ll find that even the haters out there want to discuss things.

    Bruce Hudson

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