Tag Archives: comments

Never Read the Comments

4 Oct

Some of you don’t. It’s a thing now – to avoid reading the comments, for a variety of reasons. Instead, I’ll promote a few so that you will see them. I used to do this somewhat regularly, so there’s a precedent for it.  

1. On September 24th, I wrote a piece about the aftermath of this year’s primary races, entitled “A Confluence of Horrible Politics“. It was mostly in response to a recent interview that political bad actor Steve Pigeon had given the Buffalo News. I concluded with, 

The way in which New York conducts its elections is horrible, rife with opportunities for bad people to do questionable and corrupt things. PACs can spend unlimited money and its campaign advertising doesn’t need to disclose the source. Electoral fusion allows our system to be more about dealmaking with otherwise irrelevant minor “parties” and does nothing to enhance electoral democracy. Ballot access is unreasonably complicated and rife with traps for the unwary, and should be simplified. Money flowing to and from PACs – which are not even formally recognized under state law – should be accounted-for, disclosed, and limited to prevent monied interests from stealing elections. 

The problem now is whether money in politics will prevent the needed reforms from being openly discussed and implemented. 

Anyone who’s read me for any significant time knows that I’ve singled out electoral fusion as being the root of most of our procedural evils in New York. Sometime Artvoice contributor, attorney, and Pigeon associate Peter Reese took some time out from his busy schedule lauding the character of convicted extortionists to write this, (my responses in italics): 

Ignoring all of the ubiquitous Bedenko venom and invective, let’s cut to the conclusions:

– “The way in which New York conducts is elections is horrible, rife with opportunities for bad people to do questionable and corrupt things.” This has always been true of every election involving human beings. See Athens, Greece, 5th century BCE. What new laws will change human nature?

So, don’t do anything about it? Greek elections were run exactly like New York’s? What are you trying to say, except “do nothing, everything’s fine”?

– “PACs can spend unlimited money and its campaign advertising doesn’t need to disclose the source.” True. See Bukley v Valeo, the US Bill of Rights and NYS Election Law. Who’s for repealing the First Amendment?

If there’s a way to limit individual contributions to campaigns, I’m sure there’s a constitutional way to limit committee contributions to campaigns.

– “Electoral fusion allows our system to be more about dealmaking with otherwise irrelevant minor “parties” and does nothing to enhance electoral democracy.” Agreed. What’s your proposal? Politicians can run in all primaries (Cuomo proposal) or an Open Primary, single combined primary for all parties (California, Washington, Louisiana)? (That pesky old
Bill of Rights will make it difficult to outlaw minor political parties.)

Abolish electoral fusion and abolish Wilson-Pakula. If you want to run for office on a particular party line, you have to be a member of that party. No one’s ever suggested “outlaw[ing] minor parties.”

– “Ballot access is unreasonably complicated and rife with traps for the unwary, and should be simplified.” This has been true all your life, what are your proposals? BTW, this concept
extends to the entirety of the Election Law, which is a minefield of quirks and gotchas. 

You said in 1, supra, that the system is just fine, so it follows that you like the minefield, too. In my opinion, ballot access should be a payment of $1,000 for statewide office, $500 for a county / judicial office, and $200 for a local or municipal race.

– “Money flowing to and from PACs – which are not even formally recognized under state law – should be accounted-for, disclosed, and limited to prevent monied interests from stealing elections.” PACs are recognized. See generally Election Law, Article 14 and Regulations 6200.xx. 
See also 
“Election Law 14-100

The acronym “PAC” does not exist in the Election Law. They’re independent committees.

Once again that troublesome old First Amendment gets in the way of our attempts to limit core political free speech by those we don’t agree with. Mandatory accounting and disclosure are permitted, limits probably not 

About those disclosures…

So, got any real ideas, or just going to continue to rant and spew sour grapes? And, BTW, do any of your adoring anonymous followers actually exist or are they all your own multiple disguised identity?

1. There are your ideas. 
2. You have a login and you can search as easily as I and determine that I don’t use sock puppets on my own blog. If you’re computer-literate enough to attempt it, that is.

Apparently, the “computer literate” crack was spot on, because he replied thusly

Alan:
Why can’t you answer my questions? Questions aren’t answers. Just keep on bitching and moaning.

If you see my response in the thread, you’ll see that it prompts the reader to click “see more” to see more. I asked Mr. Reese which questions he thought I hadn’t answered, yet this was met with silence. So, I asked him on his Facebook page. He was very responsive, bravely deleting my question: 

So, there you have it. When a commenter asks me questions, I will often answer them point-by-point, even when the commenter is personally rude to me. There are your answers, Pete. I know you were genuinely interested in my answers, and that deleting my question on Facebook must have just been an oversight. It wasn’t off-topic, because ultimately it all has to do with your pathological animus against Len Lenihan and Jeremy Zellner because arglebargle. 

2. Earlier this week, I had a few criticisms of a new Buffalove video about Buffalo as the “best designed city” because it has a street grid, Olmsted parks, and because all of its socioeconomic problems stem from the 198 and the Kensington and the Skyway and the 190, and if we just eliminate all those roads, Buffalo’s path to prosperity will be clear. Did you know it was put together as a promotion for a new urbanism symposium coming to Buffalo next June? Neither did I. It’s not mentioned anywhere in the video. 

On Twitter, Buffalo ex-pat and Associate Editor for Atlantic Cities Mark Byrnes noted that: 

 

Interesting, right? Buffalo Rising contributor Hey Ra Cha Cha wrote, 

 

Then, in comments, this:

I wonder if they consulted any real planners about the claim that Buffalo is “America’s best designed city”. There’s many aspects of Buffalo’s built environment that are considered the antithesis of both classical and contemporary best planning principles. Among them are:

* Extremely long blocks, up to a half mile in some cases. (660 feet is considered ideal.)

* Undergrounding most of the city’s streams and creeks.

* Railroads mincing the city’s street grid into much smaller and more separated parts than almost any other city in the country. The “Chinese Wall” effect from railroads criss-crossing and looping around the city far exceeds the damage caused by the Kensington Expressway.

* Thanks to the railroads and a lack of zoning before 1920, heavy industry became more widely distributed throughout Buffalo, compared to peer cities.

* Devoting almost all of the city’s waterfront — Lake Erie, the Niagara River, and most of the Buffalo River — to heavy industry.

* Despite the Olmsted system, Buffalo has far less land devoted to parks than peer cities. Distribution of non-Olmsted parks is erratic, and siting and design poor.

* A street grid that offered many radial and north-south connections, but relatively few unbroken east-west connections.

* Very few alleys, resulting in a streetscape that, even in residential areas, is interrupted by driveways every 30 to 40 feet. The lack of rear access to many lots also rendered much of the city’s housing functionally obsolete when cars became prevalent; there was no place to add off-street parking or a garage when houses are just five or 10 feet apart, like much of the East Side.

* The lack of a citywide masonry building code, resulting in a housing stock dominated by frame telescopers, semi-bungalows, and two-flats. Frame houses were more susceptible to fire (anyone remember Eyewitness News in the 1980s?) and insensitive alterations than those constructed of brick.

While you’re busy reading that, I’m poring over maps with my kids, trying to find the best street grid and radial system to visit on our next vacation. Because streets. 

 

Banality of Small-Town Evil

11 Apr

After a four month absence, the Buffalo News Comments Tumblr is back online, cataloguing the stupid and the overtly racist comments to which regular people have no problem affixing their real names. 

Are Blog Comments Dead?

14 Dec

You may have noticed in recent weeks that the number of comments on the site have decreased.  However, our traffic numbers are higher than ever before in a non-election season.  So, what’s happening in the comment section?

When we started this website back in 2004, WNYMedia.net was pretty much the only online outlet for people to comment on and discuss the local news of the day.  The TV stations pretty much ignored the web and The Buffalo News updated once each morning and ignored the potential for an online community.  So, we stepped in and took advantage of the market opportunity.

We offered a cozy spot on the Internet for people to discuss issues in their community, share insights, build consensus, and bring different perspectives to stories that were often ignored by the larger outlets.  We even had a little slogan internally, the site was built for all of us to Advocate, Educate, Inform, Opinionate and Update and sometimes Yell.  We built a pretty diverse community and we were proud of what we created.

Over the ensuing years, the “news and opinion” audience fragmented into various niche websites because, well, that’s what happens on the Internet. Buffalo Rising, Buffalo Spree, SpeakUpWNY, Artvoice, BlockClub and dozens of individual blogs started to build their own communities. Through it all, our traffic numbers grew.  As the old saying goes; “A rising tide raises all boats”.  We were still bringing new readers and contributors onboard each day and, generally speaking, discussions were proactive, friendly, intelligent and productive.  Sure, we had occasional sniping and verbal slapfights, but it’s the Internet.  It’s what happens.

In early 2007, the major outlets finally got onboard with this whole “internets thing” and started asking for comments on stories and providing an outlet for people to communicate.  In their meandering and unfocused effort to add an interactive component to their news organizations, they forgot about the most important part of building an online community, moderation.   Online communities are like gardens.  They need to be watered, fed and maintained on a regular basis or bugs and weeds will overtake the flowers, ya dig?  When new readers visit, your online community cannot look like a hostile, insular and angry place or the new readers will not stay to participate.  People don’t want to be yelled at or insulted nor do they wish to hang around with a bunch of anonymous assholes.

We, however, did not forget about moderation.   About five months ago, we announced that comments would be more strictly moderated on the site to ensure they stayed on topic and stayed positive.  I think we’ve been mildly successful in that regard.

However, moderation isn’t the only factor that has resulted in less conversation on the WNYMedia.  Twitter, Facebook, mobile apps, Networked Blogs and content skimmers have also influenced the conversation, in a very big way.

Yesterday, I did a Facebook search on my Maria Whyte story to see how many people linked it on Facebook.   Interestingly, I found that 32 people in my network had posted the article on their Facebook wall and discussion about the article was happening on all of those pages, over 50 comments.  It was also shared dozens of times on Twitter (with ensuing discussion) and read a couple of hundred times on our Droid App with comments left there as well.  Content skimmers like Buffalo123 also steal our articles and comments occasionally happen on their site as well.   When we stream video, our viewers are on UStream or on their phones and they share/discuss our audio and video content on YouTube.

So, what’s a content provider to do?  Honestly, we don’t really care if the comments are here or elsewhere, our traffic numbers are the currency we care about as a business, but we want to make the readers happy with the experience.  Is it important to you for us to keep comments here or should we simply deal with the new reality that the website serves as a launching pad for content discussions across various social networks?  Should we do more to integrate social feeds into the site using Facebook Connect and Google Accounts?

You tell us, what’s important to you. I’ll be looking for your comments…everywhere.

Anonymity Alone?

6 Jul

The Batavian’s Howard Owens submitted this comment, disagreeing with my assessment of the Buffalo News’ comment policy revision:

Alan writes, “In other words, the Buffalo News is doing it wrong”

No actually, they’re getting it all right. It is simply unethical for news sites to allow unvetted anonymous comments.

Here’s more I’ve written along those lines.

“Anonymity, pseudonyms, noms de plume – they’re all longstanding traditions in internet discussions, going way back to the free-wheeling days of usenet newsgroups. It moved on to blogs where writers assumed online identities like “Atrios”, “Calpundit”, “Kos”, “Allahpundit”, and reader/commenters did the same. ”
None of those sites are news sites, who’s primary purpose is to provide credible original reporting. It’s a false comparison.

Further, a particular news site going to a real names policy in no way diminishes a persons ability to be anonymous in any other forum that allows anonymity. There’s nothing prohibiting a reader from setting up a blog on Word Press and anonymous bashing whatever and whomever he or she chooses. The Buffalo News going to a real names policy in no way is a threat to online anonymity.

“The Buffalo News presumably has no prohibition against its journalists providing anonymity to sources for stories. In fact, it does so quite routinely, as do all responsible journalists.”

What you fail to note is that when a reporter grants anonymity, a process has taken place (at least, ideally), where a reporter and editor have discussed the legitimacy of granting anonymity, weighing the probative value of the information provided, the motivation of the source, the credibility of the source and whether the information can be obtained by any other means, and verifying the accuracy of the information as best as possible (if not completely). No such vetting process takes place with anonymous comments.

So, again, it’s a false comparison.

And I’m completely flummoxed your argument that “nobody asked for” and there’s “no need” for comments on certain stories. If nobody asked for them, then why is it an issue? Nobody will comment on them. And the idea that there shouldn’t be comments on this or that story runs entirely counter to the whole notion of freedom. Why deny somebody the ability to comment on even the most mundane news item. You never know what information might come out. It could be quite worthwhile. On The Batavian, some of the most interesting conversations occur on some of the most seemingly minor stories.

If you’re going to moderate comments before they appear, you might as well not even have comments. It’s a conversation killer.

Nobody has a good reason to post anonymously. If you can’t say it with your name on it, you probably shouldn’t say it. However, if it’s legitimate news that you want to tip the paper to it, then there are innumerable ways with most news organizations to provide anonymous tips.

At The Batavian, we get anonymous tips on a routine basis.

In a later post, you quote some comments and imply that if the poster hadn’t been able to post anonymously, the information might not have come out. I’m simply going to call bull shit on that. I’ve enough experience on requiring real name comments to know that people post just about anything (including hateful crap) with their real names attached. And the fact of the matter is, such information as you cite gains in credibility when a real person with a real name takes responsibility for it.

I realize that there has been a certain spin to the Buffalo News going to real names that it will clean up the comments. That’s not the real reason news orgs need to adopt real name policies — it’s simply a matter of ethics. A real name policy in and of itself will not clean up comments. There is simply no substitute for involved, active moderators monitoring in and participating in the comments. Running a successful online community is not a “set it and forget it” process. It takes time, intelligence and effort.

Alan, you’re familiar enough with The Batavian to know — we require real names, we have a robust and diverse community of contributors, with a largely civil exchange, and plenty of people not scarred off by attaching their real names to say what’s really on their minds.

There is simply no logical, reasonable argument I’ve come across yet that would excuse a news organization such as the Buffalo News allowing anonymous comments.

My one-liner about the Buffalo News “doing it wrong” isn’t directed towards the revision of its policy, but to any commenting policy it has ever had. We can all agree that the Buffalo News’ comments section was an unreadable thread of trash. It was quite clear that pure anonymity had emboldened some hateful commenters to spew hate-filled things.

The Buffalo News isn’t the Batavian and it isn’t WNYMedia.net. It’s the sole local paper in town, and it has always treated its online presence as a confusing appendage rather than a tool. The Batavian is mostly a straight news source, but it’s set up like a blog. Comments are a blog creation, and you made the decision from practically day one to require real names. I’ve praised you before many times for that.

But I won’t just automatically criticize a site solely for permitting anonymous comments or noms de plume. While the process for granting anonymity to a site commenter versus a confidential source may be different, the reason for that request and desire for anonymity may be the same. An elected official’s staffer may choose to post a comment on my site for the same reason he may choose to request anonymity to a reporter – he has strong opinions and background knowledge, but is not authorized to speak to the issue. There is value in permitting that person to shield his identity.

We don’t get a lot of racist commenters here, and when we do we generally keep the comment up because (a) the commenter looks like an idiot; and (b) the rest of the commenting community here can call the idiot out. Just because someone wants to say something stupid doesn’t mean I have to delete it. The difference at the News is the sheer volume of comments, and in turn racist idiocy, which required some sort of reaction.

You say that pre-moderation is a discussion-killer. But any movement to remove anonymity will chill commentary to some degree. You’re coming at this from a newspaperman’s perspective, while blogs and their comments are really a contemporary version of usenet newsgroups, where anything goes. That sort of free-wheeling discussion is an internet thing, not a newspaper thing.

Yes, the Batavian gets robust comments going even on routine stories. So, I gather, might the Buffalo News. But my criticism had to do with the fact that the News didn’t do anything to police its comments section, which it appended to each and every story. Remember – the Batavian uses a blog platform. The Buffalo News doesn’t. I can’t imagine there was a big clamor for people to be able to post a comment to every single story the News does.

But the core of our disagreement is that you oppose anonymity, while I can see its value. You even acknowledge that people will say dumb and racist things even when using their real names, so anonymity itself isn’t the problem – it’s anonymity paired with ignorant hatred.

So, we can agree that the Buffalo News’ “set it and forget it” method of “policing” its comments section is the real culprit. Because of the volume of traffic the News gets, it had a duty to implement a commenting system that would encourage discussion and discourage/ban hate speech. It failed to do so, and here we are debating it.

Buffalo News Pwn3d by Commenters

29 Jun

The Mayor of the City of Buffalo appointed interim Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda to the post permanently. The Buffalo News’ article reporting that fact is quite odd, to put it mildly.

On a whim, I checked out the comments to the article. What I found there, posted by anonyms who were free to write without fear of retaliation by City Hall or Police HQ, was information that directly contradicted the news transcribed in the Buffalo News from city press releases and provided by the Mayor’s office.

Derenda, 50, an East Side resident and 24-year veteran of the force, declined to comment, though he was seen headed into meetings with Mayor Byron W. Brown at City Hall this morning. The position of top cop pays $116,989 a year.

More specifically,

Derenda and his wife and their two young children reside in Buffalo’s Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood, where he grew up. In past interviews, Derenda said it was always his goal to join the police department.

But anonymous commenter “ProperEnglish” posted this:

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

Seeing as though you and your minions at the Snooze refuse to do any investigative reporting and continue to print blatant propaganda from Brown, Casey, Cutler and the likes, I took it upon myself to do a simple search of public records.

Dan Derenda and his wife currently reside in Clarence, and have for several years. Correct me if I’m wrong but, when he was Deputy Police Commissioner he was supposed to be under the rule that states he was SUPPOSED to live in the City, right?

He claims an address on Pierce street in Buffalo. However, if you or your fine reporters had done ANY sort of homework, you would have realized that this is a fraud! The particular piece of property that he and his wife own on Pierce street is legally deemed a paper street. I don’t know of anyone who resides on a “paper street”.

My next post will have my references, so don’t delete this post as uninformed hearsay!

Sure enough, ProperEnglish in the very next comment reveals that Derenda has resided in Clarence Center since about 2006, according to the County Clerk’s records, and his phone number is listed there.

Another anonymous commenter, who might not want his or her real identity known says:

lou michel and brian meyer have absolutley lost all credibility, printing this propaganda should be criminal: failure to recognize his lack of rank, failure to explore his business ties with the brown bandwagon, a failure to investigate his real residence and a failure to explore his real “work ethic” by running his company on city time, makes this article a total fluff piece, as if we will fall for it. figures the only cop to talk about derenda on the record is diina, those two and the word dedication in the same sentence is actually funny. diina will have to give up his trophy for the most hated commissioner, now that his buddy derenda is working his 3 hrs a day, 7 day a week work schedule…

Maybe it’s not just the racist BS that prompted the News to get rid of anonymous commenting in the coming weeks. Maybe it’s also the fact that it can be pretty brutally pwn3d by its readers within a few hours of the article’s appearance.

And here’s what Artvoice wrote about Derenda’s chances of becoming Commissioner a full month and a half ago:

Derenda a “Shoe-In”

That’s how a policeman friend of ours described Daniel Derenda’s prospects for being named Buffalo’s next police commissioner. Derenda has been interim commissioners since Mayor Byron Brown unceremoniously fired H. McCarthy Gipson at the end of last year. The mayor promised that there would be a national search for Gipson’s replacement, but lately some members of the Common Council have complained that there’s been no earnest effort to find any other candidate than Derenda.

You may recall reading something about the matter in this column in the first issue of 2010: “The number one candidate is Deputy Commissioner Dan Derenda, who reportedly has the support of Deputy Mayor Steve Casey,” we reported. We suggested then that the Brown administration worried that the Common Council majority might hesitate to confirm the selection. In addition to kneejerk reaction to Casey’s support, the Council might balk because Derenda’s primary residence is apparently in Clarence and he lacks. A delay in appointing him would give him time to sort that out.

Derenda has donated $2,200 to Brown’s campaign coffers since 2006, and his apparel company, First Impressions, donated $696 in goods to the mayor’s re-election campaign. First Impressions has provided campaign support to numerous candidates Brown has sponsored in recent years, including Barbra Kavanaugh, Antoine Thompson, Jessica Maglietto, and Craig Hannah.

I’m sure Derenda’s tenure as Commissioner will be neither more nor less distinguished than that of his predecessors. But at the very least, one would hope that the local paper would do more than simply offer Peter Cutler transcription services.

Buffalo News to Tamp Down “Those People” Comments

21 Jun

I suppose I ought to offer up my opinion about the Buffalo News’ about-face – essentially adopting their letters-to-the-editor-verification rules to readers’ web comments.

Here it is.

Who gives a shit.

The Buffalo News has failed utterly and miserably at integrating itself into the world of the internet. The stories, after all, are written for the audience reading the paper – not for the web. Once the story was printed online and in the paper, the reporter or columnist was already busily working on the next day’s story. Seldom, if ever, was there any interaction between the reader and the reporter via web comments. On the contrary, the Buffalo News’ comments sections so regularly and rabidly became hateful and ignorant that it was like a coming-out soiree for Buffalo’s most dedicated racist morons – a veritable race to the intellectual bottom.

So I never read them unless someone specifically pointed something out.

But as with anything internet-related that Margaret Sullivan writes about, it’s all a big tsk-tsk. Like she let you people play with her paper, and you shat all over it.

The column itself is drastically misnamed. You can’t solicit a “return to” a “civility” that never existed.

So, the Buffalo News as usual applies a 70s mentality to a 21st century problem and, in turn, reveals that it doesn’t quite understand these kids with their internets. Here’s a hint: reader comments on the Buffalo News’ website represented not a conversation or debate, but a series of one-sided cerebral excretions. The writers didn’t engage the commenters and the commenters quite obviously weren’t out for debate or discussion. The writers or editors could have been encouraged to engage in further discussion or debate, but the News can’t generally even get them to write on their blogs, much less slum it in the chock-full-of-malaprops comments sections.

So, while the Buffalo News struggles with union rules, not understanding the internet or commenting, reporters and editors who won’t engage the readers in discussion or debate because it encroaches on the notion of objectivity, we’ll be here tweaking the site and implementing some changes of our own that will hopefully enhance discussion rather than chill it altogether.

WNYMedia Comment Policy

21 Jun

In recent weeks, you may have noticed that the number of comments which ultimately make it to our pages has declined.  Well, there is a reason for that.  We’ve taken some steps to clean up our comments section while we continue to formulate a formal policy for the next iteration of our website (coming sometime this summer).

Moderating offensive, racist, omniphobic, libelous, and dumb comments is just part of the job description as an editor at WNYMedia.net.  It’s a tedious job, but we’ve continually been asked by our readers to clean up the site.  Those who are respectful of others and have built up a bit of a reputation are given more leeway than those who show up and tell our writers to forcibly insert objects into their various orifices.

We’ve made use of moderation software on the site which sends comments containing specific racist or hateful terms into a moderation queue, where we either remove the offensiveness and post the remainder of the comment or we simply delete them.  Let me be clear, this is not a process we utilize for commenters who have differing opinions or strong points of view, this is for those who simply cannot post a comment without being disrespectful or hateful towards the writer, other commenters or the subjects in our articles.  If we banned people for being wrong or thinking differently, we’d never allow Mike in WNY or Ward to comment.  As much as we may disagree with them, they are always respectful and polite.

The reason I bring this up is that this past Sunday, the editor of The Buffalo News informed her readers that she would be instituting some new policies for reader comments on the website.

Online commenting began, a year or so ago, as a way to engage our Web readers and give them a chance to air their points of view and get some discussion going on the topics of the day.

Quickly, though, the practice degenerated into something significantly less lofty. Particularly on stories about inner-city crime — but not only on those stories — reader comments can be racist and ugly. In fact, we’ve been shocked at how seemingly routine stories can elicit comments that veer off into offensive territory.

All of that is very true.  In fact, once The Buffalo News started publishing reader comments, our comment traffic went down as the hatemongers felt like they were called up to the major leagues.

Media organizations all over the country, particularly newspapers with active Web sites, are struggling with this subject. There’s no easy answer. The tension is between wanting to take advantage of the freewheeling expression of the Internet and wanting to keep standards of reasonable tolerance and decency on a public site.

We’re all struggling with this problem, anonymity on the web can promote the pixelated version of bathroom stall graffiti.  Anonymity on the web can also help build sources and information networks for future stories, it also allows people to simply say what’s on their mind or blow a whistle without fear of retribution.  To promote the latter and discourage the former, it is incumbent upon a web outlet to tend their garden, if you will.

We encourage our writers to respond to comments, to engage in discussion, to keep things on track and not allow things to devolve into petty backbiting.  That doesn’t mean we prevent it, we just try to encourage everyone to keep the discussion moving forward.  This is something The Buffalo News never did.  Their writers simply threw their stories into the ether and were not responsible for managing the discussion…that was a job for the web guy.  Not a good plan.  It allows for sock puppets, astroturf activists, and generally nasty people to become weeds in your garden of civility and positive discourse.  They have never publicly discussed whether or not they use the comments section as a feedback engine for their coverage of local events nor have they ever really demonstrated a concern for what was said on their pages.  It always seemed that they allowed comments because it was the thing to do.

So, how to handle this new media problem?  The Buffalo News is choosing to apply an old media solution…

After quite a bit of internal discussion, The News — in the next few weeks — will make a significant change. We will require commenters to give their real names and the names of their towns, which will appear with their comments, just as they do in printed “letters to the editor,” which have appeared daily for many years on the newspaper’s op-ed page.

It will mean that Web site readers must fill out an online form and include a phone number that we will use to help verify that they are who they say they are.

I think this is a bit of an over-reaction, but that’s just my opinion.  The result of this move will most likely depress any real feedback and serve to isolate the news staff and editors from the public at a time when community building is essential to their continued existence.

We’ve given a lot of thought to how we will formalize our comments section in our new design and we’d like to solicit your feedback on the various options.

Option 1.) The Kottke Sullivan

Jason Kottke and Andrew Sullivan are two of the most widely read bloggers on the web.  They have been blogging for years and have both have a “no published comments” policy on their websites.  They provide a means for you to share your opinion with them via email and also on the social network of your choice.  We’ve worked out a way in which our readers would simply be allowed to comment on our stories on their Facebook page as well as ours while we keep our site focused on our own content.  We would publish certain comments which add to the discuss or serve as a counter to ours on the website, but general commenting would happen off platform.

Option 2.) Facebook Connect

Commenters would first need to provide either their Facebook credentials (via Facebook Connect), Twitter Credentials (via OAuth), or OpenID in order to post comments on the website.  This is a nice way to ensure people own their own comments while leveraging their own social capital and reputation to do so.  We would also still leave open a web based submission tool and email channels for those who wish to provide comments anonymously.  They would be moderated prior to posting.

Option 3.) The Pay Model

Commenters would be required to register an account with us which would give them the ability to post comments and submit stories to the website while also providing them a local savings passport for local businesses.  You would pay a small annual fee for the website/swag/savings card with your credit card or paypal account, just like any other online purchase.  You would also help provide us with additional operating capital to grow our writing staff and increase our enterprise journalism efforts.  Registered members would be able to comment, while unregistered users would only be allowed to submit feedback via email or web form.

Option 4.) Leave it alone

You love the wild west feel of the anonymous Internets and you want your tubes free of moderation.  You love it just the way it is and if we screw with it, you’ll tell us to forcibly insert large objects into our various orifices.

Nowhere in any of these models are we asking you to give us your phone number so we can call you before posting your comment.  That would be a huge timesuck and would ultimately prove futile…

So, let me know via email (chris@wnymedia.net) or in the comments section what you think of our various options.  If there is an option you don’t see and you’d like us to consider, let us know.  We’re open to your ideas.

Also, I think you’re going to be excited with the new version of the site, it’s going to be a HUGE change…or at least, that’s what Billy Fuccillo has told us.

Moderating Comments

6 Aug
PCD_Freener

Mrs. Geek Would Like Me To Note, this is not our child

When we started this website back in 2004, WNYMedia.net was pretty much the only online outlet for people to comment on and discuss the local news of the day. The TV stations pretty much ignored the web and The Buffalo News updated once each morning and ignored the potential for an online community. So, we stepped in.

We offered a cozy spot on the Internet for people to discuss issues in their community, share insights, build consensus, and bring different perspectives to stories that were often ignored by the larger outlets. We even had a little slogan internally, the site was built for all of us to Advocate, Educate, Inform, Opinionate and Update. We built a pretty diverse community and we were proud of what we created.

Over the ensuing years, the “news and opinion” audience fragmented into various niche websites because, well, that’s what happens on the Internet. Buffalo Rising, Buffalo Spree, SpeakUpWNY, Artvoice, BlockClub and dozens of individual blogs started to build their own communities. Through it all, our traffic numbers grew.

As the old saying goes; “A rising tide raises all boats”. We were still bringing new readers and contributors onboard each day and, generally speaking, discussions were proactive, friendly, intelligent and productive.  Sure, we had occasional sniping and verbal slapfights, but it’s the Internet.  It’s what happens.

In early 2007, the major outlets finally got onboard with this whole “internets thing” and started asking for comments on stories and providing an outlet for people to communicate. In their meandering and unfocused effort to add an interactive component to their news organizations, they forgot about the most important part of building an online community, moderation.

Online communities are like gardens. They need to be watered, fed and maintained on a regular basis or bugs and weeds will overtake the flowers, ya dig? When new readers visit, your online community cannot look like a hostile, insular and angry place or the new readers will not stay to participate. People don’t want to be yelled at or insulted nor do they wish to hang around with a bunch of anonymous assholes.

A quick sample of a random comment thread at The Buffalo News website or the WGRZ forums will show you the basest, most awful parts of local humanity. I’m not overblowing this. People are outright racist, mean-spirited and obsessed with launching anger filled invective down the Internet Tubes.  Spending more than a few minutes on those sites can really make you lose faith in the whole “City of Good Neighbors” myth we so eagerly spread in this town.

However, the major outlets are not the only ones who have failed to tend their online “community gardens” in recent months, we’re guilty as well.

Marc, Alan and I noticed that the political discussion on our sites took a turn for the angry around the time of the Democratic National Convention last year. We thought it was a reflection of the nasty campaigns being fought on both the national and local level and that things would die down after the November elections. In the midst of all of the angry infighting amongst our regular commenters, we noticed that a meme was developing, we were becoming a place where the same 10-12 people came to continue the same argument each day, regardless of the topic. We’ve been hearing about libertarianism versus the perceived notion that this nation is moving towards socialism for about eight months now.

The result is that our once diverse community of political commenters has essentially boiled down to six proselytizing libertarians and a core group of liberals who like to bicker with them each day. Our traffic numbers are still growing at incredible rates month-over-month as people consume our content, but the community we once were so proud of is struggling to fight off the kudzu of ignorance. New readers are not contributing in comments because they don’t feel welcome to do so. That’s a problem we need to fix.

Because the local libertarian crowd (all 20 of them) cannot grow its local audience on its own merits, it has decided to engage in political discussions on more popular sites in the hopes that they can thereby recruit new readers through links and trackbacks left in our comment section.

We’re not opposed to differing viewpoints, as we have many productive Republican commenters and bloggers on our site and we also offer a home to those that scrape the far lefty edges of the political spectrum. The problem is that the comments left by this vocal group are repetitive, predictable, and 99% of the time add absolutely nothing to the underlying article or discussion. In short, they’re trolling.

Discussion is one thing. Proselytizing is another.

They have their own sites and they find sympathetic souls over at SpeakupWNY.  Whenever WBEN, The Buffalo News or the TV stations want someone to talk about how badly taxes suck, they have Jim Ostrowski and his army of bores. They don’t lack for access to the free “marketplace of ideas” nor do they want for attention, they get it everywhere they go.

So, we at WNYMedia (as participants in the free market) have a choice to make. Do we want to have adult discussions about issues of import or do we want to be yet another place for a daily libertarian circle jerk where they discuss their utopian fantasies and hijack our website? If we are to take action and institute new community guidelines, will we alienate our readers? We are a business and we need to create an environment in which we new readers and commenters feel welcome to participate so that we may grow. Balancing a growth curve and loyalty to our existing readers and commenters is not easy. We certainly consider decisions like this with caution.

Before we make an official decision, we thought we should ask our community for feedback. We’re not all on the same page internally as to how to move forward, so I’m putting this out there to hear what you think. We may decide to make some changes or we may decide to do nothing at all. However, we’ll let you guide our ultimate decision as to whether or not to introduce some new moderating guidelines.

In essence, it boils down as follows:

– The comments sections are there for discussion of the topic that is the subject of the post. Period.
– Personal attacks will no longer be tolerated, but profanity will be allowed. After all, I love profanity.
– If you hijack a thread with off-topic bullshit, your comment will be moderated.
– Bring Hitler into a discussion that is not specifically written discussing Hitler and you’re put in moron moderation.

We’re just weeding the garden in order to let the flowers of community bloom. Did you like what I just did there? Yeah, me too.

What do you think? Where do we go from here?

Powers on Service

20 Oct

First off, I’d like to say “stop it” to any Democrat in the 26th District who is reluctant to vote for Alice Kryzan due to some resentment or anger he or she harbors towards Kryzan for anything she did or said during the primary. She won. She’s better than Lee. Enough.

Secondly, there has been much back and forth about Jon Powers’ commitment to this community, and he took the time to respond in comments thusly:

I appreciate your concern over my service to this community and would be happy to discuss it with you. Perhaps we could start with my working with my father as a child volunteering in soup kitchens, cooking hotdogs at the Clarence Day in the Park for nearly 20 years, working with groups doing roadside clean ups in my community, or my Eagle Scout project for battered women shelters here in WNY.

Maybe you’d also like to discuss when I joined ROTC so I could serve this nation both at peace and at war, which included nearly a year and a half in Iraq securing a 50,000 person sector in Baghdad. There’s also the program I worked for while I was substitute teaching, which helped developmentally disabled college students who needed extra tutoring while studying in local colleges.

Sure, I left the area to join the service when I was stationed in Germany and Iraq, but continually wrote to schools here in Clarence when deployed in Iraq and worked with folks at home who sent over 5000 pairs of shoes we delivered to children in Baghdad. You may mock my War Kids Relief efforts, but that would show ignorance in listening to certain opponents attack ads and not the real story or the facts.

Our family has worked and served this community proudly for a long time. I just did not feel it appropriate to discuss this on the campaign trail as I attempted to focus on the community and the problems and solutions that this area and nation need.

I have moved to Washington, DC to work with campaigns all across this nation to help them develop their Veterans Outreach. This is a position I would not be able to obtain while remaining in Buffalo, where I was born and raised and proudly call my home. I will be able to make an impact not only in WNY, but in communities just like WNY all across the nation. I believe this is an incredibly important election year and want to make sure we can bring the real change necessary to get this nation back on track. That is why I am making the sacrifice to move away from my home and family to make a difference, while still working with family to help make an impact at home.

I am sorry you feel the way you do, but perhaps you can get out there and change things in your community instead of mocking those who try. In the words of Robert Kennedy, “we all struggle to transcend the cruelties and the follies of mankind. That struggle will not be won by standing aloof and pointing a finger; it will be won by action, by men who commit their every resource of mind and body to the education and improvement and help of their fellow man.”

If you would like to talk more, please forward your number to Pundit and I would be happy to discuss this in further detail.

Sincerely,

Jon Powers

Just wanted to point it out because it happened late on Friday.