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.”

4 thoughts on “Public discourse may not be pretty — especially online

  1. Paone

    I don’t see what the problem is. The comments attached to these news articles are by no means permanent. Libelous material can and has been removed from these comment sections with nothing more than a respectful email to the online department.
    I should know. I had to have comments about my wife removed not too long ago, and the matter was handled promptly and professionally.
    The Comments section is probably the best innovation the paper has brought forth in quite some time, and I look forward to seeing how it will evolve down the road. It’s spurred some serious (and not-so-serious) conversation on a wide range of topics, from spanking in schools to the morality of homosexuality and its place (or lack thereof) in today’s religion. It is also the birthplace of the recall amendment currently before the county commission, and could possibly be the starting point of even more legislation. It’s also going to be interesting to see the part these Comments sections will play in upcoming election articles, especially given our currently tumultuous local scene.
    Bottom line: If the reader believes the comments to be defamatory, there is indeed recourse for removing them, even long after the conversation has grown cold.

  2. Brian

    Your points are well taken, and I do understand that freeform blogging may indeed be a significant addition to civic discussion of current events. However, whenever someone blogs on your site it is clearly stated that (user) “agrees not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned”. It seems when a blogger’s comments have been removed 3 or 4 times by the staff in one article, perhaps they are not getting it. In those scenarios I do not see why you would not go ahead and ban their username from the blog. Ultimately, the user can come back on and continue to add their input, under a different username (but perhaps they will be more inclined to follow the above stipulations set by Knoxnews itself). Maybe then we could avoid emails such as mine, and emails such as Kathleen’s mother (This is from a response appearing in a previous upfront entry) where she says “There are so many hurtful things being said about Kathleen in the comments. There are just plain untruths. … If people care enough to comment, let them write a letter to the editor. I ask this not only for Kathleen, but for all the people who have been hurt by untrue, uncaring comments.”
    A person who has been blocked multiple times, and continues to blog is unacceptable… send them a message.

  3. Brian

    Your points are well taken, and I do understand that freeform blogging may indeed be a significant addition to civic discussion of current events. However, whenever someone blogs on your site it is clearly stated that (user) “agrees not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned”. It seems when a blogger’s comments have been removed 3 or 4 times by the staff in one article, perhaps they are not getting it. In those scenarios I do not see why you would not go ahead and ban their username from the blog. Ultimately, the user can come back on and continue to add their input, under a different username (but perhaps they will be more inclined to follow the above stipulations set by Knoxnews itself). Maybe then we could avoid emails such as mine, and emails such as Kathleen’s mother (This is from a response appearing in a previous upfront entry) where she says “There are so many hurtful things being said about Kathleen in the comments. There are just plain untruths. … If people care enough to comment, let them write a letter to the editor. I ask this not only for Kathleen, but for all the people who have been hurt by untrue, uncaring comments.”
    A person who has been blocked multiple times, and continues to blog is unacceptable… send them a message.

  4. Warm Ups

    Paone,
    I couldn’t agree more. I think that the Comments section is an amazing addition to the paper. It allows people to voice their opinion and engage in conversation regarding the topic. Since the idea of commenting on news articles has been introduced, I prefer to read news that allows me to discuss what I have read. And of course, should someone post something that is defamatory or inappropriate, then you can always have that comment removed.

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