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Reader ideas for moderating comments

By Andy Alexander

While many readers complain about a declining level of discourse in online comments, a large number also want to help find ways to elevate the conversation. That was evident in the reaction to Sunday’s ombudsman’s column revealing that The Post will soon implement a system of “tiers” for commenters.

Those who sign their real names or who have a track record of engaging in civil discourse will be assigned to a tier of “trusted commenters” that will appear when readers click to see comments on a story, column or blog. But those who have repeatedly offered inflammatory or off-topic comments will be grouped in a second “tier,” or blocked outright.

Readers who contacted me, and a fair number who commented online in response to the column, said they thought The Post is heading in the right direction. I agree. As I wrote in closing the column: “I like the approach because it doesn’t limit speech. Anonymous loudmouths can still shout. But ‘trusted commenters' will be easier to hear.”

Quite a few readers offered additional ideas, some quite simple.

Charles G. Burck of New Orleans suggested trying to reduce the online ire by offering this message before a poster writes a comment: “Attack ideas all you want, but don’t attack people.”

Another reader suggested a similar reminder to avoid ad hominem attacks: “Please post a civil comment.”

Several, referencing my mention that The Post has only a few staff “monitors” to scrutinize more than 10,000 comments a day, suggested relying on unpaid assistance. A reader from Hawaii wrote: “Why don’t you enlist the help of readers who would volunteer to read and categorize the posts you receive?” An online commenter, who goes by “suzie01,” offered a similar idea for part-timers: “If you guys don’t have enough monitors, hire more! Plenty out-of-work copy editors (remember them?) would be happy to take part-time jobs screening comments, and with the right technology they could do it from their own laptops.”

A few who e-mailed or commented online suggested The Post allow readers to click “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” in order to rate and rank comments. This is similar to what is done at Yahoo.com, for example, or at the Web site for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Many sites allow readers to sort by “most recommended.”

One commenter, who goes by “Slager21,” said providing a sorting option would address a common problem for readers: “There is simply too much junk in a comment string. For the most part, it’s like shoveling out a barn full of manure in the belief that there must be a pony in there somewhere.”

Another commenter using the handle “beefchop423” suggested: “One addition that would be excellent is a ‘this is useless junk’ button... enough voted on that button, and out it goes.”

Several suggested imposing a time limit so that commenters are restricted to no more than one post every 30 or 45 minutes. “It would cut down on the diatribes,” a caller told me.

Hal Straus, who oversees commenting for The Post’s Web site, said a variety of tests will be applied to help establish who is a “trusted commenter.” One will be to determine whether a commenter also subscribes to The Post. That might establish they actually exist (as opposed to some who register to comment with false identities) and it could add to the likelihood they fit the profile of someone who is a serious news consumer. “Andym108,” who commented on my column, offered this idea: “It would be fun if the Post would add a small symbol such as ‘sub’ next to the comments by its print subscribers. I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of vitriol we read here comes from the non-subscribers.”

Keep the ideas coming. I’ll make sure they’re shared with Straus and others overseeing the Web site.

By Andy Alexander  | April 6, 2010; 12:53 PM ET
 
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Comments

I'm not a subscriber and I'm very UNliberal, and I'm not a Democrat so this will probably be the last comment by me seen here.

Farewell you old, liberal newspaper.

It was fun while it lasted.

Say HI to Barack and Nancy Pelosi for me.

Posted by: battleground51 | April 6, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

"One addition that would be excellent is a ‘this is useless junk’ button... enough voted on that button, and out it goes.”

Can we get that feature for articles, too?

Posted by: tomtildrum | April 6, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I'd be careful with the idea of limiting preferred users to subscribers. I know they bring in revenue, but some of us read the Post online only because we are not in the DC area or because we can't afford a subscription--both of these are good reasons.

However, I'm all for marking subscribers to reward and prestige them for their loyalty. It could be like on the NaNoWriMo forums, where those who donate are marked with a halo above their username.

I like the idea of hiring part time help to read. You wouldn't have to pay them much at all.

I worry about systems in which users democratically decide. I know we all value democratic methods, but on the internet it leads to bullying, spamming, and other methods of marginalizing voices. Paid reviewers would be more fair, and you'd know that they understand the difference between a rant, a flame, and a legitimate comment.

Posted by: whiteflame128 | April 6, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

" to help establish who is a “trusted commenter.” One will be to determine whether a commenter also subscribes to The Post. " This would be combining crass commercialism with a forum for supposed free speech. This would be like a Democratic or liberal or Republican or conservative website deciding "trusted commenters" were those "subscribing" only to their ideological perspective.

In any event, "The Washington Post" seems to be following "The New York Times" in the direction of imposing censorship on the internet. Civility is a very nice virtue I strongly approve of and am dismayed at its decline in our society. But freedom of speech is supposed to be one of the cornerstones of this society. So much for the ideals of Voltaire, Jefferson and other true champions of free expression.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | April 6, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

Keep it as it is. Your readers are adults who can think for themselves.

Posted by: uzs106 | April 6, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

I think that your classification proposal and preparedness to eliminate some posts is undesirable.

One of the important features of 'freedom of speech' is that it is free from constraints from others who might wish to censor them.

Freedom of Speech only exists when the speaker is heard by everyone whether they agree with or disagree with the written contentions. It doesn't exist if the writer has to speak to him/herself in the absence of an audience.

Society is diverse and the variety of views and feelings must be aired without restriction so that we know how (and sometimes why) people hold the views that they express.

By hearing controversial views we can think about what is being said and we can challenge ourselves and the views that we do not like.

The idea that you know how a view should be expressed is pretty silly. Your newspaper has done a wonderful thing by providing the forum (ie the posts) but that will be reversed if you and your team are allowed to decide who can be heard.

I suggest that you should think a little deeper and that you should doubt your ability to be wise. For instance, when Bush decided to invade Iraq almost no one in the US dared to challenge his actions. Many supported him but others were intimidated into silence. What would you do in that environment. Would you assume that writers who vehemently oppose Bush are obnoxious and should not be heard or would you leave them alone. In any event, it comes down to this: you should not play emperor and decide who can express themselves and who should be silenced.

Overall, I am staggered to think that you have come up with this idea of censorship. I think that you will be oppressive no matter what you do.

Posted by: robertjames1 | April 7, 2010 2:30 AM | Report abuse

Well it's too bad they didn't have this for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, they could have just clicked the button and made him go away.

What pious dementia makes you think that a plurality of consensus makes something invalid?

I do like the idea above of a button to suggest that your articles are useless junk.

Posted by: ssag | April 7, 2010 3:45 AM | Report abuse

Courtland Milloy recently wrote that he wanted to spit on Tea Party protesters and "knock every racist and homophobic tooth out of their Cro-Magnon heads." Would statements like this be permissible under the Post's comments policy?

Posted by: dsmith06 | April 7, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Keep in mind we still have the value added tax, cap and trade and immigration "reform" before November. What better way to quiet the dissenters than to relegate them to a lower tier.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | April 8, 2010 12:58 AM | Report abuse

You claim in your article that: 'Readers ... said they thought The Post is heading in the right direction. I agree.' If that is so, why have you failed to attract widespread support in these posts?

You are contending that your rules achieve validity because of popular acclamation. That argument is unconvincing.

How will you classify my comments? Will I receive a gold star on my forehead or will you tell the world that my posts are inflammatory?

You must be very wise if you know how to give approval or condemnation or a fool wh9o believes that he should be trusted.

Posted by: robertjames1 | April 8, 2010 1:50 AM | Report abuse

So one can offer their real name and engage in uncivil discourse?

How will anyone verify real names and define what is civil and not?

Posted by: forestbloggod | April 8, 2010 3:02 AM | Report abuse

Off topic?

Since computers have enabled discussions, the stupidest thing to do has been to say "You are off topic. You will be banned." Many topics have "sidebars" and one can digress to a reasoned point - and be off topic. But reasonable,

A good discussion will wander now and then. There is no NEED to keep people on the topic. Perhaps they are at a point where something else is more interesting.

So what should we do?

Stick to the topic or discuss what is interesting?

And why have "police" to enforce the topic.

Well one reason is that this discussion is like a farm for ideas. The reporters need ideas and they want ideas on their topic. The garden better grow a crop and all the rest is "weeds."

So that is why they enforce the topics rule. If you follow your interest, you are not producing crop. That is not what they pay for.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | April 8, 2010 4:56 AM | Report abuse

Frankly, you could drop the comments feature entirely and not miss much. But assuming it sticks around, I've found that any lengthy comment string has the following characteristics:

1) at least a few commercial spam posts

2) numerous comments from, at most, 2 or 3 people pushing right-wing talking points

2a) not necessarily the same group, but lots of comments attacking the Post

3) lots of responses to the comments from category 2) Invariably it descends into a partisan catfight about the same stuff. Every time.

4) a small number of meaningful and useful comments from people

This is the current landscape. None of the passive suggestions, like reminding people to be civil, will have an impact because people will ignore it just like they do now. Ditto using "real" names.

What you need is a beefed up mechanism for self regulation. Either the like it/hate it buttons or, even better, "relevant"/"not relevant." (Or both) Something doesn't have to be useless junk to simply be irrelevant. I'd really recommend encouraging feedback about comments that stay on point. If the same commenter gets lots of hate its or not relevants, they get put aside for special screening.

Posted by: simpleton1 | April 8, 2010 5:07 AM | Report abuse

simpleton1 -

"numerous comments from, at most, 2 or 3 people pushing right-wing talking points"

Any chance that you ever saw anyone pushing "left-wing talking points"? Near as I can tell the groups is pretty well divided between angry people on the right and angry people on the left.

Posted by: bobmoses | April 8, 2010 7:24 AM | Report abuse

Freedom of speech creates the problem of noise. Then the diamonds are lost in the rough.

The technology blog, slashdot.org, with about 5.5 million users per month, has an effective way of dealing with the dilemma. I could see how WAPO might find a way usefully to adapt their approach.

On slashdot, Comments can be in response to the main topic or article, or a previous response. Comments are nested/grouped, making it far easier to follow a particular thread, and any interchange among commenters.

Importantly, slashdot has a user-based moderation system assigning value scores and attributes like normal, offtopic, insightful, redundant, funny, interesting, or troll.

The wikipedia entry sums it up >> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slashdot

Or visit >>
feed://slashdot.org/index.rss

Posted by: yklktk | April 8, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Simpleton 1 (5:07) has it about right. Strangely enough no one has mentioned the flag for abuse button. I tick this flag fairly often and it seems to me that very rarely does a monitor come online to remove the flagrant abuse of the Post's own rules, such as no shouting, spam, off-topic comments, repeats, personal attacks, or over-long diatribes done by cut and paste.

Another problem not mentioned in this article is the use of long cut and paste quotes with white space to push someone off the page. This is a cheap trick that often is used to monopolize the commentary.

I prefer the Post's comments to the NYT's because of its immediacy. As for the suggestion that people use real names, I'm not so sure. I use my own name but can understand why others prefer to use catchy handles.

Chris Brown in Hamburg

Posted by: chrisbrown12 | April 8, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

The Post now applies various standards -- the highest for Letters to the Editor, which are "curated" (to use the self-important term you once employed) and sharply limited in number and length; a middle ground for comments in online discussions, which give the date the person signed on, and the number of comments; and then the very lightly mediated general comments that provoke most of the fuss.
How about reorganizing this hierarchy, maybe as follows:
1) Maintain the Letters standard (verified name, content copy-edited, limit on length and number of appearances per year) for printed letters, but also provide a daily online section to accommodate additional letters that don't fit into print;
2) Continue labeled comments in "discussions" and invite the same type in response to published articles, with more mediating for relevance, real-name sign-in (but no subscriber requirement) and a limit on comments/day; and
3) Still provide forums for rants, raves, diatribes, off-topic and inflammatory comments, and whatever else anyone chooses to post, but with those no-holds-barred free-speech areas clearly marked for the readers and advertisers who choose to venture there.
Personally, I'm willing to use my real last name and initial, but don't want to be labeled as "trusted" -- trusted to do what? speak how? think how?

Posted by: cjohnson1 | April 8, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I think the problem is that the Post's news and opinion pieces are almost 100% slanted in the liberal direction. Liberal bias has always been a sore spot for non-liberal Americans, which, by the way, comprises the majority of American by most polling organizations.

These blatantly liberal, propaganda pieces do enrage many who hold conservative or moderate views. Those people try to neutralize the liberal pieces by throwing out strong disagreement comments and even ridicule.

It's all we got. The newspaper barons hold the real power and they are about 90% liberals. The one news source that does not slant liberal, FOX NEWS, is hated by all liberaldom. What does that tell you about liberals and free speech??

Posted by: battleground51 | April 8, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Ok - let's recap here:

1. Becoming a trusted commentator should only involve providing the Washington Post with your real name, a verifible email address, a mailing address, a phone number, and - if you desire - a handle and picture or graphic.
2. The email address - the Washington Post should frown on Hotmail/Yahoo/Gmail types, though not completely be forbidden - will be sent an email, and within 48 hours a response from the email will get you certified, so to speak. This is the system used on numerous boards I am a member of.
3. The handle/real name/picture or graphic will appear when you comment - depending on your choice. All other data will be kept secure by the Washington Post, and any requests for this data should require a subpoena.
4. Commerical entries should be reported - via a specific button - and deleted as sooon as possible.
5. Direct personal and ad hom attacks should have the attack material deleted, and a message put in the posting to that effect. A specific button will notify the moderators of such an outburst.
6. If the discussion seems to be getting off topic, a Going Off Topic button should be available, so that a moderator can investigate and contact, out of the discussion, the issue.
7. Extreme viewpoints should not be touched unless they involve direct personal or ad hom attacks. Not being Poltical Correct should not be a reason for moderator activity. A good example is how the discussion (I assume) is going on the Confederate Month. This issue is a raw one, and there are strong emotions on all sides, but a good discussion will lead all of us to a common understanding, if not agreement. We need that, as a nation.
8. Moderators will only react to buttons, with no on-going intervention.
9. People who are not trusted can view postings - but not comment, and be offered the chance to be become trusted at every opportunity.

Posted by: GHF_LRLTD | April 8, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Had there been an internet and "moderating" of comments during the previous two hundred forty years, think of controversial speakers in this country alone who probably would have been banned, beginning by British colonial authorities:

Patrick Henry, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, Mark Twain, Henry Mencken, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, W.E.B. DuBois, Norman Thomas, Malcolm X, just to name a relatively few.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | April 8, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

A few other suggestions:

- Limit the number of posts per day (5-10?)
- Limit the word count on posts (200?)
- Ban those containing other website addresses; these posters typically have a commercial interest
- Provide a formal structure to respond to another post

Posted by: jack824 | April 8, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Expandable threads. This way only those who are interested in the flame war can insult each other from a single original post - all of which can be visually collapsed by the reader who may despise such teenage nonsense. In addition provide a sorting function that can sort comments by the number of "recommends" they receive.

The tier system is interesting, but the screening would be expensive. Go with the programming. Less back end tampering, more front end user control.

If you want perceived legitimacy to drive comments, a ranking system is the best way to achieve this. The more recommends a post receives, its rank increases. After the comments section is closed, the list reorders itself based on rank, aka the posts that are recommended the most appear first, with their expandable thread if responses were made. I would avoid a downrank button. You want to quiet the trolls, not give them another way to inject their misery.

Its not perfect, just an idea.

Posted by: trident420 | April 8, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse

The deep and abiding flaws in the Post's own proposals as outlined by Alexander and the proposals of readers:
1. The smug assumption that there is an objective way to determine whether a comment is acceptable or not acceptable. There is not. Period. I add my vote to those who have pointed out that ideas that once would have been considered extremist or inflammatory are today considered mainstream or conservative. The idea that Post editors or consensus opinion can separate the wheat from the chaff is pure malarkey.
2. Whoever is given power to accept or reject comments will misuse it. Period.
3. For reason number 2, the idea that the Post can solve whatever problem there is by going out and hiring people off the streets to do the judging is the second dumbest idea to come down the pike. People will vote according to their prejudices and existing beliefs. Here's the thing: The Post will end up with honest, sincere people who will convince themselves that they are truly being fair and objective. They will not be overtly subjective, but their sub-conscious impulses will keep whirring away. The human brain is capable of wondrous acts of self-rationalization. The idea that the Post will find individuals free of those impulses is absurd on its face.

4. The absolute dumbest idea offered is to link comments here according to whether the commenter subscribes to the post. And this incredible idea was offered by the person who oversees commenting for The Post’s Web site? My mouth is still on the floor. Does the Washington Post seriously harbor the idea of discriminating between subscribers and web-only readers--and making the latter second-class citizens? The very people on whom the economic future of the Post hinges are to be relegated to second-class status? I have never seen a more pluperfect revelation of 1) An inside-the-Beltway mentality and 2) the fact some people still just do not get it about the new day of the Internet revolution.

Allowing the free market of comments to work is the best solution. Reject only those that use profanity or ad hominem attacks. Impose limits on postings, say, per half-hour, but be generous. (Why should someone be barred just because they are on a roll, as long as they are contributing to rational discourse?) Give readers an improved ability to vote on the worth of individual comments.

If a commenter is barred, give the explicit reason why, and make the decision with the reasons available to all.

Posted by: tbarksdl | April 9, 2010 6:48 AM | Report abuse

"a variety of tests will be applied to help establish who is a “trusted commenter.” One will be to determine whether a commenter also subscribes to The Post."

How very parochial of you! I was under the impression that the Washington Post was a respected national newspaper and that the opinion page might be
the seat of the best political commentary available from inside the beltway.

I have often wondered why I can(and do) receive the Sunday Times at my doorstep here in the hinterland of Missouri, yet when I have tried to subscribe to the Post, I am told I am out of your service area. Now I get it: the Post is only a local paper! No wonder so many of your political articles seem to assume that the area outside the beltway where I live is a vast wasteland.

What a way to increase circulation.

Posted by: martymar123 | April 9, 2010 6:55 AM | Report abuse

I'm not a subscriber and I'm very UNliberal, and I'm not a Democrat so this will probably be the last comment by me seen here.

Farewell you old, liberal newspaper.

It was fun while it lasted.

Say HI to Barack and Nancy Pelosi for me.

Posted by: battleground51
**********************

And a newspaper's IQ level goes up a notch... bye!!!

Posted by: LABC | April 9, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: battleground51 " Liberal bias has always been a sore spot for non-liberal Americans, which, by the way, comprises the majority of American by most polling organizations."

Just as conservative-biased reporting angered the more moderate and liberal folks. Apparently you are getting your polling results form Foxnews. According to the national voter registry as of last year there where about 55mil registered Repubs, 44mil Independents and 72mil Democrats. That doesn't look like America is a mjority conservative country.

Posted by: schnauzer21 | April 9, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I am so glad the WaPo is going to moderated posts. In addition to the suggestions you have listed I would like the number of posts per article limited to 2 per person. One to post, one to clarify.

I would like a tier above 1 though. There should be a tier for people who have an opinion formed from expertise in the subject either from experience or education and training. The NYTimes puts many of these in a Highlight tab.

Posted by: suenoir | April 9, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Get rid of Fred Hiatt - he does not have a track record of engaging in civil discourse or facts. Problem solved !

Posted by: ritzatliberty | April 9, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I second the recommendation of the SlashDot system. It allows the readers to decide what comments are good and what comments are not good, and it is completely automated, so the Post would not have to have an expensive staff reviewing comments.

You could probably just go and buy it from them.

Posted by: vinyl1 | April 9, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

So one can offer their real name and engage in uncivil discourse?

How will anyone verify real names and define what is civil and not?

Posted by: forestbloggod | April 8, 2010 3:02 AM | Report abuse

_________

With real names, the opportunities for civil attorneys would blossom, as any negative comments could be construed as slander and/or defamation. With real names, the temptation to advertise one's services would be overwhelming. One can always put in a plug for one's services.

Assume the topic is Justice Stevens retirement. Anyone who publishes anything would be negligent to his or her own career were he or she not to say something like this:

"Justice Stevens language on X v. US was marvelous. Especially telling was the logic he used in paragraph 4 on page 3. Why, in my discussion on pigeon behavior while perched above automobiles, which you can obtain online here: ______________ , you can see on page 4 a similar use of logic. It really makes the point."

Posted by: Martial | April 9, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

A few other suggestions:

- Limit the number of posts per day (5-10?)
- Limit the word count on posts (200?)
- Ban those containing other website addresses; these posters typically have a commercial interest
- Provide a formal structure to respond to another post

Posted by: jack824 | April 8, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

____________

Websites can direct readers to the evidence, providing the most reasoned possible discussion.

The commercial stuff is best handled by simply flagging the thing on the abuse tab, easy to do and important because the editors will certainly want to block that particular poster. To avert detection with a specific webpage, all the commercial maker needs to do is to put a space between each letter of the webpage he would like readers to go to.

Speaking of commercials, do click the ads at the side of this page.

Posted by: Martial | April 9, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm a frequent poster and everyday reader. Here are my comments.

1) As a subscriber, I think the idea of using "this person subscribes" as a criterion for "trusted commenter" status is blatantly commercial and outrageous.

2) I don't like the concept of moderated comments unless those who moderate do ONLY that. I didn't even realize individual reporters have the capability to delete individual comments from their own articles. This is much too subjective.

3) Likewise, the rules whereby moderators could delete comments should be clear, comprehensive and public -- again in the interest of objectivity.

4) I don't favor a Twitter-like low character count because it cramps serious commenters' ability to explore topics in detail. Perhaps 5k is a bit long but it should be at least 2k.

5) I don't like the idea of limiting the number of comments per day or increasing the time between comments to 30-45 minutes, unless these are applied ONLY to the same article or op-ed.

6) I WOULD like to see the Post crack down on the obsessive cut-n-paste reposting of long, repetitive comments (... TICK, TICK, TICK, TICK, TICK, ...) Some posters write lots of comments, all different. But too many post the same rambling comments all over the website irrespective of the article content, and do it for days or even weeks on end.

7) Actually, I don't much like the concept of moderation unless it's nearly realtime and essentially full-time. If the Post can't afford to do this, then don't make commenters wait overnight for moderators. It kills the freshness of the discourse.

8) When comments are removed, the poster should be informed of this, and the reason. This provides useful feedback to the poster and would also allow for an appeal if the poster feels they were discriminated against. I say this because recently I've had a couple of posts removed for no discernable reason, and there's no way for me to find out why.

9) I see people get banned all the time and they immediately pop up under "clever" reworkings of their previous name, so it's clear the Post isn't tracking IPs very well.

10) Anonymity MUST be preserved. It's not that people (including myself) aren't willing to stand by their opinions. It's that posting one's opinions shouldn't cost people their jobs or risk their physical safety.

Posted by: laboo | April 9, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

why not keep the old way of doing things and just add a seperate tab called "sifted comments" for the sorted "thumbs up, moderated, worthy, civil or whatever" - that way the diatribers can still flame and rant and post their manifestos but we can see what the moderators think is worthy as well. It would be interesting to see what makes the cut

Posted by: route7192 | April 9, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

I do not believe that the bulk of your reader posts are in response to articles written by actual working journalists.

They respond in main to the inanities written in response to many of Fred Hiatt's op-ed columnists -- Gerson, Thiessen, Kristol, Will, Kagan, Hiatt and Diehl, and Krauthammer. The editorial page has become neconservative and nearly always wrong -- Kristol on politics, Gerson most recently in his defense of the Pope on pedophilia, Thiessen on torture, Kagan on all wars he loves to comment upon, Diehl on his being a shill for Israel's ambassador Michael Oren, Krauthammer on nearly everything that comes from Obama ("nuclear posturing," "The president immediately calls in the lawyers to determine whether the attacking state is in compliance with the NPT," "morally bizarre......and strategically loopy," "the naivete is stunning," "Seeing America retreat, they will rethink. And some will arm. There is no greater spur to hyper-proliferation than the furling of the American nuclear umbrella.")

Krauthammer, how many nukes is enough in the week that you've been pondering this issue? How do you know how many is enough the the Joint Chief of Staff think otherwise. This is too Strangelovian for words!

Now, how dumb is all of this from people whom the Post pays who have never done anything in their life that might qualify as been-there-done-that.

No, Krauthammer, a former psychiatrist who to his discredit did not measure the water into which he dove, is weekly loopy, and for his views and those of the others named above is why I no longer subscribe to the Post.

It's all word manipulation for those who choose not to view all there is on the web, who and who choose not read, and who should be able to make up their own minds, non-ideologically without being goosed by pundits.

The Post has won Pulitzers for those I have not named and for its journalists as well. What's wrong with Hiatt's crew?

Posted by: harper-d | April 10, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Allowing readers to recommend a comment is meaningless with also giving the the ability to disapprove of a message. See how the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune handles their comments, for example. Seeing that "9 of 10 people liked this comment" is much more informative than knowing that 15 people recommended a comment, especially for a piece with several hundred comments.

I would really love it if the Post would allow readers to mark their approval or disapproval of the actual articles on the opinion pages, but I'm quite sure that neither Mr. Hiatt or his hired lackeys are willing to get such statistical feedback on their opinions for the whole world to see.

It's one thing for Dr. Krauthammer to write a column which receives 1000 comments, 900 of them negative, but another thing entirely if people could see without reading 1000 comments that "100 of 1000 people liked this column".

Posted by: hgillette | April 10, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Laboo, I have disagreed with you on many things, but your ideas here have great merit. Especially upsetting are those who simply cut and repaste things multiple times within the same article. The ones who do this are on both sides of issues. What possible gain is there from doing this?

Posted by: Martial | April 10, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Some interesting ideas here from a lot of posters. I don't have a problem with the "trusted commenter" concept, but WaPo should let the forum participants decide what they want to see by providing a "See Trusted" and "See All" filter button. If you just want to read salient comments, you could select the "trusted" option, while "all" would let you see everything that's been posted.

I don't have a problem with noting if someone is a subscriber, but I don't see where it is really relevant to someone's posts. I don't see any issue with allowing subscribers to automatically be placed in the "trusted" category, as long as they can earn an ejection like anyone else due to inappropriate commentary.

I would very much oppose increasing the time limit between posts from the current three minutes. I had an occasion where due to a typo, the word "embarrass" got the last three letters separated, which flagged the "inappropriate" filter. Well, I was embarrassed, but although I immediately corrected it, the system wouldn't let me try to post again until the time limit expired. I enjoy the forums and I often like to post comments to several articles I've read. If I had to wait 30-45 minutes between each posting, this wouldn't be fun any more.

Just my few cents worth...

Posted by: alert4jsw | April 10, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

My talent is the meanest of all talents. As the man in the parable was accountable for his talent, so I am accountable to the great Lord of all. The readers aren't accountable to you and they should trust you. Trying to make the readers more accountable is a difficult job. It doesn't sound profitable and what's not profitable is a fools errand. There's plenty of that going around these days. Maybe have three groups, drawn-quartered and hanged.

Posted by: tossnokia | April 11, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

P.S. You could very well end up with more Silence and less Dogood. Then you'll have more tears.

Posted by: tossnokia | April 11, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

None of the ideas put forth deal with the problem of the 50 cent army in the comments. It's a huge problem, and the Post has been totally falling down on the job dealing with it.

Posted by: Nymous | April 12, 2010 1:24 AM | Report abuse

Why not ban ad hominem attacks against a fellow posters character. Three strikes your out. Most of the hateful comments center around other posters belittling their perceived political foes character. I would think that political figures and columnist should be fair game. I have a suspicion that this new policy is more likely and effort to stifle the recent flood of right wing dissent.

Posted by: shukov | April 12, 2010 8:12 AM | Report abuse

"One will be to determine whether a commenter also subscribes to The Post."

And here we have the ultimate objective: coercing people to subscribe to Fred Hiatt right-wing dystopia. Civility? Right. Try, money!

Posted by: uh_huhh | April 12, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps a simpler first step would be to police and fact check the articles which appear in the paper. Provocative opinions trigger rabid responses. Political talking points are by their nature one sided. Replacing rhetoric with less biased analysis would promote dispassionate discussion. Cut back on the frequency of your regular writers by fifty percent. Replace them with less biased experts. Invite more guest articles. We would all learn more.

Posted by: LHO39 | April 12, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I'd like to see some classification of commentary, with appropriate filters made available that allow an individual reader the ability to suppress that which they don't want to see.

This is not to remove permanently; but it would be easier for all (I believe) if we could choose how we view commentary, particularly on popular articles.

Other suggestions I have seen here are also helpful. I would, however, enjoy a flag displayed on those handles not supported by a filled-in profile; this would rapidly become my favorite filter.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | April 12, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

A "this is useless junk" button? We already have that, it says "report abusive comment" or something like that. Doesn't work, because Hal Strauss and his posse are way to tolerant in allowiung personal attacks, hatespeech and even racism. Just look at the HUGE diference between WaPo's "moderation" and that of the NYT! Strauss and his freedom of speech fundamentalists have to go, that is a necessary condition for any improvements. And then, self regulation by up and down votes (we already have that, doesn't work either) will only help once all the trolls are banned. Right now, THEY are the majority, and the votes on the comment threads show that! Kick the serial offenders out, apply zero tolerance to obscenity and bullying, and with more reasonable and pragmatic moderators the Post will eventually have coment threads that are worthy of a newspaper of national importance. But that will only happen when the current moderation team, which horribly failed, has been exchanged!

Oh, and sry, but I can't hewlp it: I TOLD YOU SO, WaPo! And you voiced your criticism, too, Mr. Alkexander, kudos for that. It took Brauchli and the other editors a very long time to acknoledge that their hellhole of "comment threads" is hurting the reputation of the Post. But now we may finally see a silver line at the horizon. Better late than never.

Posted by: Gray62 | April 12, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

"Those with a track record of staying within the guidelines, and those providing their real names, will likely be considered "trusted commenters.""

So, populist rhetoric will trump inconvenient truths, and unashamed bullies posting under their allegedly real name will have the upper hand over reasonable commenters, concerned about their privacy? That shall be the "improvement"? D'oh.

Posted by: Gray62 | April 12, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I think this new approach to reader's comments is healthy and prudent. Nobody likes to read the screaming luncacies of the few professional commentors who seem to dominate here. They have gone so far as to post imaginary pictures of themselves and then proceed to use the most unseemly language thinking that will convince someone that they are sane. Right on WashingPost.com - this is progress.

Posted by: andystewart | April 12, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Some appealing suggestions would just be too labor-intesive to merit serious consideration at a time when newspapers and their staffs are shrinking.

I'd suggest the Post consider a two-tiered moderating approach. The bottom tier, first line of defense against flagrant SPAM, offensive language and the like could be trusted volunteers. The top tier, consisting of Post employees, would not have to review every comment which generated an "abuse" complaint, but would only review each comment deleted by volunteer moderators to verify that the volunteer moderators are acting appropriately.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | April 12, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Will the "trusted Ssources" include the various lobbyists, spinmasters, neo-cons, warmongers, chickenhawks, and sleazy pols the Post favors in publishing letters and columns? Will they include the local developers the Post is in bed with?
You are a gutless asswipe who if he showed any true independence would be fired forthwith, and you know it.

Posted by: jos587 | April 12, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Keep it as it is. Your readers are adults who can think for themselves.

Posted by: uzs106

I couldn't say it any better.

What are you: people or sheeple!?

Did you ever hear that "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me?"

Man up you journalistic cowards!

Posted by: adamnescot1 | April 12, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

If the WP wanted to take the high ground they would drastically limit the number of frivolous hit pieces on Sarah Palin. Most of these so called articles are pure demagoguery designed to merely increase the number of comments but only draws the meaningless drivel of Palin haters.

Why do you still run some of the same columnists who are caught in outright lies.
Capehart was attempting to associate Joe Stack with the Tea Party movement before much was even known about him.His column was filled with obvious misquotes and omissions of Stacks comments and writings. There was not even an apology or an editorial disavowing his comments.

If you want readers for JOURNALISTIC reasons you would do the RIGHT thing. If you want to be merely a partisan paper with a few articles during non critical times that reflect the conservative view you've accomplished that. It would be refreshing and maybe profitable to become the FIRST mainstream media paper that is truly nonpartisan.

Maybe you ought to be MORE concerned with your OWN behavior. During the last election you served as a cheerleader for Obama and dropped Journalism altogether.
Tom Brokaw was on the Charlie Rose show right AFTER the election. They were both discussing how little they really knew about Obama other than what was in his own autobiography. Whose fault was that, WP?

And then there was one of your peers:

This is what long time ethical writer, jounalist and contributor to ABC, Michael Malone, said about his own profession during the election...
"The traditional media are playing a very, very dangerous game -- with their readers, with the Constitution and with their own fates.
The media have covered this presidential campaign with a bias and that ultimately could lead to its downfall.
The sheer bias in the print and television coverage of this election campaign is not just bewildering, but appalling. And over the last few months I've found myself slowly moving from shaking my head at the obvious one-sided reporting, to actually shouting at the screen of my television and my laptop computer.
But worst of all, for the last couple weeks, I've begun -- for the first time in my adult life -- to be embarrassed to admit what I do for a living. A few days ago, when asked by a new acquaintance what I did for a living, I replied that I was "a writer," because I couldn't bring myself to admit to a stranger that I'm a journalist.
You need to understand how painful this is for me. I am one of those people who truly bleeds ink when I'm cut. I am a fourth-generation newspaperman. As family history tells it, my great-grandfather was a newspaper editor in Abilene, Kan., during the last of the cowboy days, then moved to Oregon to help start the Oregon Journal (now the Oregonian)"


I know the papers are suffering from lack of costumers. Can you afford to push even more away. Maybe you should look in the mirror first.

Posted by: jblast2000 | April 12, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

jblast2000 - Haven't you seen Cillizza and/or Milbank at work on video? No shortage of costumers at the Post!

And I very much like the idea of being able to "mute" individual commenters. That way folks who enjoy shouting can shout away without me having to hear it.


Posted by: bobsewell | April 12, 2010 11:29 PM | Report abuse

One function I'd love to have is the ability to select for myself whether a particular individual's comments are delivered to me. Anybody who reads comments in the Opinion section knows that there is a large group of tireless and clueless trolls who appear day in and day out, repeatedly submitting the same angry and useless talking points -- on both the left and right. If I could click on a commenters name, and a button that says something like "do not display this reader's comments on my computer" I would find the comments sections a much pleasanter experience. Not sure if the software is up to it.

I'm a little concerned about using "off topic" as a metric. Some of the blogs have comment sections that are routinely quite discursive, lively, and highly entertaining. You might want to check with some of the writers to see whether they would prefer to have their blogs exempted from any ranking system. I would hate to have my comments in the opinion section relegated to some kind of second tier status because of my involvement in blog discussions that may wander way off the original topic.

Posted by: rashomon | April 13, 2010 1:19 AM | Report abuse

I'd suggest allowing users to filter high frequency posters. I'd like to be able to filter out anyone who posts more than 3 times to a given column. I believe that this would filter the haters. Neither would it censor the haters. They could continue to sling mud, and the rest of us could maintain a civil debate.

Posted by: gomer3 | April 13, 2010 1:21 AM | Report abuse

Oh! I thought I was reading the NY Times roundtable on "Why Smart People Swear"! What a delightful surprise they linked to you.
And now on to Doonesbury, for which my eternal thanks!

Good luck with the comment moderation. Myself, I prefer anonymity- not because I want to be mean in secret- but because I am sensitive- and prefer not to be attacked by the mud-slingers or even perfectly nice people who haven't figured out yet that ad hominems are not only more hurtful to their target but also the opposite of logical discourse.
I do write a blog under my real name and the personal insults there are enough for me, thanks! But mainly it's about identity
security, an illusion these days, I know, but why exacerbate it.

Posted by: aottaway | April 13, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Hi, Andrew and everybody. One simple way to ferret out the diatribes: do not post any comments with all caps words, other than for recognizable acronyms like GOP, etc. Also same suggestion for sentences ending in more than one exclamation point or question mark. Another way to get a handle on this, which I think is needed, by the way, is to simply limit the number of comments, like the NY Times, and allow readers to either thumbs up or down on those already posted.

Finally, eliminate posting arguments between and among those posting comments, which are dreary, off point and just take up space.

Thanks.

Posted by: greetingsfromCA | April 13, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

"They roused him with muffins, they roused him with cress, they roused him with jam and with ice, they set him conumdrums to guess and gave him judicious advice, when at length he sat up and was able to speak his sad story he started to tell, and the bellman yelled silence not even a squeek, and excitedly tingled his bell. "
( I know straight to tier two, just couldnt stop myself )

Posted by: almorganiv | April 13, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Tiered comments are a terrible idea. Why not use the recommend button for something other than frustration relief? Comments that get the most recommends go to the top.

Copy the NY Times method, it serves very well. In fact, anything you can do to copy the approach of the NYT would be an improvement over Fred Hiatts' emulation of the Moonie paper.

Posted by: joebanks | April 13, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

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