Monday debate: Reader comments to online news and opinion articles

Here at UW-Madison over the last few weeks, one of our student newspapers has been wrestling with the issue of incivility in the anonymous comments that they allow readers to post after each article. They claim to be moving toward a full moderation system to ward off personal attacks masquerading as productive debate, but as of last Friday had apparently not yet implemented any policy change.

The contradictions of civility, anonymity, and moderation in online spaces are certainly not new. Anonymity is supposed to allow one safe participation in an online forum without fear of reprisal in the real world; however, the juvenile and mob-like aggression and assault invited by an open anonymous forum can serve to chill the very speech it was intended to protect. Moderation holds out the promise of gatekeeping in such online spaces to sift and winnow the productive dialogue from the mean-spirited diatribe; however, besides being constantly prone to charges of censorship and favoritism, any moderation system beyond a simple keyword-based SPAM filter requires thoughtful, thorough, and expensive human labor.  And finally, at the same time news organizations feel pushed by online norms of audience “playbor” to open up comment spaces to wide participation, those very comment spaces themselves might discourage deeper forms of audience engagement — including paid support — as they deter and disgust all but the most polarized of readers.

Different online organizations have approached this problem in different ways. Over at the New York Times, for example, individual weblogs within the organization sometimes exercise more or less control over the comments. But all are subject to an overall policy of screening and moderation:

Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we have created a space where readers can exchange intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers and generally cannot alter a comment once it is posted.

Closer to home, the Capital Times, which is staking its future on a rich online presence coupled with two free weekly print products (one news-based, one entertainment-based), requires any commenters to register and agree to some lenthy terms of service. With respect to “Online Conduct,” they say

We encourage a free and open exchange of ideas in a climate of mutual respect. We do not control the messages or postings that are sent to the Site but we, or third parties acting on our behalf, may monitor online conduct to enforce these Terms of Use. We reserve the right in our sole discretion, but do not assume any obligation, to refuse to post, remove, or edit any messages or postings sent to the Site. Any action by a user that infringes on another user’s right to use and enjoy this Site is prohibited. We reserve the right to suspend or terminate your access to and use of this Site if, in our view, your conduct fails to meet any of our guidelines. We also reserve the right to change these terms at any time.

I’m curious to hear what other SJMC faculty, staff, and students think about the world of online comments and the various social and technological solutions which have so far emerged to reckon with them.  How do we keep online spaces both open and civil?  Both diverse and productive?  Both safe and interesting?

Friday blog rescue: Student resources for mass communication research

(Rescued from the class blog for J201, Introduction to Mass Communication.)

Here at UW-Madison, our top-notch campus library offers many resources targeted to journalism & mass communication research issues. Here are a few.

The Library has put together Undergraduate Research Guides on a wide variety of topics, including several communication-related areas:

For finding full-text articles online, check the E-Resource Gateway for communication and media information resources which lists over forty different bibliographic databases, including these communication-specific ones:

Rather than simply turning to Wikipedia when curious about communication topics, why not visit these topic-specific encyclopedias?

And finally, from our own Professor Stephen Vaughn, an Annotated Bibliography on New Communication Technologies.

MA Student Stories Published on thedailypage partnered with UW-Madison Prof. Sue Robinson’s J800 MA professional-track journalism class during the fall semester to report on some of the challenges facing the Madison Metropolitan School District. They focused on the entire district as well as on each level — elementary, middle schools and high schools. Check out the stories here!!

The ipad and digital storytelling

I was really intrigued at this partnership between Apple and Wired Magazine, which has unveiled its plans for using the ipad.  If you were wondering what all the hoopla was about in regards to journalistic possibilities, check it out. LOVE the 3D photos and new navigation. I still think more could be done with digitizing the story, though — much of this does still seem very print-focused (ie how to navigate the magazine). From this video it doesn’t look like a lot is being done with the text itself (ie navigating between parts of the story or allowing the reader to choose her own path through the story, wherever it takes them). But I’m really excited about all of this, nonetheless.

A couple caveats though:

1) All of this means that the production practice of both journalists and advertisers are going to have to change. You need to think about photographing with 3D concepts in mind, for example. It must change what kind of information you need to gather, and make you rethink what parts of the story you might want to emphasize. That has all sorts of implications: for J-Schools, for equipment purchases, for reporting at the scene, etc etc.


2), after reading this article, I found my way to this one: Survey: 40 percent in U.S. have no broadband

Just something to think about. Not everyone is going to be buying that ipad.

Monday debate: The future of journalism or the future of media?

This past year has seen plenty of “future of journalism” articles, workshops, and conferences.  We too are wrestling with these issues here at SJMC, not only in terms of research (such as our new center devoted to exploring media ethics in a globally networked society) and teaching (such as Professor Young Mie Kim’s class on the social implications of new communication technologies) but in service as well (such as our partnership with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism).

Recently, two of our faculty, Professors James Baughman and Dhavan Shahappeared on the UW-Madison program Office Hours to discuss the “future of journalism” with host Professor Ken Goldstein.  The roughly twenty-minute conversation is definitely worth a watch (click the image above to get the video). Yet I always cringe a little bit when I hear the phrase “future of journalism,” because I see the issue as much larger than this.

Over at least the last century and a half, through the aggressive deepening of a global capitalist mode of production and the broad deployment of print, broadcast, and now networked information infrastructures, the social, political, and economic processes of journalism have become tightly interrelated with the social, political, and economic processes of strategic communication.  The changing form of that interrelation today — as seen in new production and consumption technologies, new organizational forms for knowledge production, new workplace practices of information labor, and new cultural meanings about what defines “news” itself — is what interests me most.  In other words, I don’t believe you can make any substantive claims about the “future of journalism” without making related claims about the “future of strategic communication” (and perhaps the “future of entertainment”) as well.  (The Office Hours conversation above touches on this idea at about the ten-minute mark.)

I’m curious to hear what you think about alternative “futures of media” involving both journalism and strategic communication.  Any speculations or predictions?  Any hopes or fears?