Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The Wall Street Journal website — paywalled from the very beginning — turns 20 years old today
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Feb. 20, 2012, 12:30 p.m.
new-haven-independent-comments-return

The New Haven Independent reboots its comments engine

The new approach: “We will be posting comments that help to illuminate the story; that provide history and context and perspective that will guide New Haven Independent readers to a more thorough understanding of what is going on.”

At 8:34 a.m. today, someone posting under the pseudonym “Hill” commented on a feature story published by the New Haven Independent about two city police officers walking a beat: “Great Job, That’s what neighborhood policing is all about.”

And with that, the Independent’s nearly two-week-long hiatus from reader comments came to an end.

The Independent, as I wrote last week, had suspended comments, with editor and founder Paul Bass explaining to his readers that in recent months what had once been a civil dialogue had morphed into hateful ranting. Bass wondered if the job of screening comments had devolved into “managing a sewer with toxic streams that demoralize anyone who dares to take part in government or citizen activism.”

Bass clearly agonized over what his next step should be. Last Thursday he posted a follow-up in which he had some fun with the reference in my earlier piece to the “cone of silence.” Bass also rounded up the best of more than 100 comments posted to other sites (including the Lab and a post on my blog, Media Nation) about his decision to suspend user participation.

Then, this morning, the Independent announced that user comments were back — with some new rules to keep the conversation civil. The most important:

  • Users will still be allowed to post anonymously or pseudonymously — but now they must register under their real names and check a box stating that they agree to the Independent’s commenting policy. (The policy is not new, but requiring users to affirm that they’ve read it is.)
  • All comments will be screened before posting, which, again, is not new. But rather than being handled by Bass and the two staff members who do the bulk of the reporting, it will instead be turned over to two veteran journalists who are working for the Independent but who are not part of day-to-day city coverage.
  • Comments that contain unverified factual assertions will not be posted, but will instead be forwarded to Independent reporters for possible follow-up.

The two journalists who will be screening comments are Joshua Mamis, a former editor and publisher of the alt-weekly New Haven Advocate, and Gwyneth Shaw, a former Washington reporter for the Baltimore Sun and Orlando Sentinel who now covers nanotechnology for the Independent. Here’s how they explain their approach:

We will be posting comments that help to illuminate the story; that provide history and context and perspective that will guide New Haven Independent readers to a more thorough understanding of what is going on. We will be culling comments that not only violate the rules but that violate the spirit of the rules; that denigrate personalities; that are attempting to use the Independent to spar with those who disagree with them, or to try to settle scores.

Since its launch more than six years ago, the Independent, a nonprofit, online-only news site, has been widely admired for the way it handled user comments and for building a genuine community around its news coverage.

I’m hoping the new system will restore what’s best about the Independent’s comments — while eliminating the “toxic streams” that were threatening to overwhelm the site.

Dan Kennedy is an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University and a panelist on “Beat the Press,” a weekly media program on WGBH-TV Boston. His blog, Media Nation, is online at www.dankennedy.net. His book on the New Haven Independent and other community news sites, The Wired City, will be published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2013.

POSTED     Feb. 20, 2012, 12:30 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The Wall Street Journal website — paywalled from the very beginning — turns 20 years old today
“From the very beginning it was very clear we needed to cover all the same concerns and sensibilities of the print Journal even though we were online and even though we were a young staff.”
Newsonomics: In the platform wars, how well are you armed?
“Think about platforms as fishing places where you can find large, engaged audiences and build a relationship with them by providing content. Then offer these users some other services off-platform.”
Wired’s making the long and slow switch to HTTPS and it wants to help other news sites do the same
With its HTTPS implementation, Wired’s starting with its security vertical and for users who pay for the ad-free version of the site.
What to read next
0
tweets
What happens to a great open source project when its creators are no longer using the tool themselves?
PANDA, the four-year-old Knight News Challenge-winning newsroom application for storing and analyzing large data sets, still has a respectable community of users, but could now use a new longterm caretaker.
0“People want to see themselves”: Postloudness aims to build a podcast network for diverse voices
“We have so many friends in this city doing great things, but there hasn’t been the right platform for them to break through.”
0No garbage fires here: Medium advances its quest to gentrify the world of Internet publishing
The search for a clean, well-lighted place on the Internet.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Politico
The Batavian
Wikipedia
Groupon
San Diego News Network
Knight Foundation
Foreign Policy
The UpTake
Tucson Citizen
Daily Mail
NPR
Fwix