Monthly Archives: December 2007

Public discourse may not be pretty — especially online

This comment came in recently regarding the comments that followed a story about an attorney being jailed for contempt of court because his license was suspended. View the first story here and the second story here.
“My concern lies with the blogs on 2 stories concerning the jailing of Nathan Anderson. I have a hard time understanding how the 50+ blogs (many of witch extremly negative, and personal) cannot be viewed as outright unsubstantiated slander.
“I spoke with Jigsha in the online department about my concerns, and was told that the blog represents a place people can voice their opinion much as they would in a dinnertime conversation. The problem I have with this is the newspaper is not a dinnertime conversation. I would like to know, would you be willing to print a blog (similar to the one I referenced) in the newspaper. The answer I hope would most certainly be no, and that is simply because no investigation has gone into the blog, and it in no way resembles good newsworthy reporting. If the blogs wouldn’t be run in the newspaper, why keep them on the site. Just the simple fact that it is KnoxNews, unfairly boosts the blogs credibility, and it also becomes a permenant part of that persons record.
“If I had something against a character in one of your newstories, I could easily create multiple identites (through multiple email accounts if necessary). I could then initiate a full blown hailstorm of negative personal unbased blogs (Yet they would become a permenant attachment to a factual newsworthy story!)”
This was my response:
“Comments posted at the end of news stories are a relatively new development in the news business. You are right. Sometimes the dialog that occurs can degrade into a low level of discourse. But we believe these comments can also serve as a significant addition to civic discussion of current events. For that reason, we are very hesitant to cut off comments entirely. Our Web site does allow readers to suggest removal of particular posts, and several posts were, in fact, removed from the story you mentioned.
“The fact is, if we tried to impose the same verification and editing standards to these posts as we do to, say, letters to the editor, we would not be able to offer the opportunity to comment online on stories at all. We have decided to err on the side of free and open discourse, even if it is, at times, unruly.”