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Does the Blogosphere Kill Letters to the Editor?


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July 13, 2005

Does the Blogosphere Kill Letters to the Editor?

Heather Green

First, the LA Time's attempt to use Wikis for editorials was highjacked. Now Ed Cone writes about the News & Record newspaper in Greensboro, which is struggling with trolls at its Letters to the Editor blog.

Big discussion going on about whether to throw in the towel on the comments to the Letters to the Editor.

Is there something inherent about an open forum blog that leads to this downward spiral. Or is it only the open forums at newspapers attract these kinds of trolls? And is there anything to do about it?

09:57 AM

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Heather-

Maybe there's a certain momentum to troll-fed lines of discussion that's not possible in print media. An attentive moderator can apply generally accepted rules of good taste to postings (eg, substituting the word CENSORED for obviously inflammatory or offensive word choices) without greatly influencing the real meaning that the writer was driving for. There can be a lot of information in someone's mood though, especially if there's a bunch of people who seem to share it vis a certain set of related issues. On one of the linked blogs, a respondant suggested that people come to know who are the trolls, and just skip those entries. This has always been the power of the reader. I want to know what people think, mood, attitude, the whole works. I'll pick out the cranks and deal with 'em myself.

Pete Z.

Posted by: Pete Zievers at July 13, 2005 01:07 PM

Heather...

A town without police will inevitably be an uncivil mess. Online needs cops, too, to restrain the few fools who ruin things for the rest. When I was at Advance Internet, we relied on forum participants to alert us to bad posts and we used a network of people across the country to respond to those alerts within 6 minutes, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. It worked. Not everyone agreed with the rulings of our cop/judge/jury, but this yielded a civilized place for neighbors to gather. I kill the occasional (but rare) comment in my blog; you moderate yours. One needs to acknowledge that the world has its asses and not let them ruin things for the rest.

Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at July 13, 2005 03:53 PM

These points seem right on--it comes down to moderating. The intriguing bit to me, which would be interesting to look into to, is this notion that Pete brings up about how troll-fed discussions may gain momentum.

Again maybe that gets back to the need for skillful moderation, as a stopcheck to temporary moblike behavior.

Posted by: Heather Green at July 13, 2005 04:31 PM

As a Greensboro resident and blogger it troubles me that trolls have taken over the forums at the News & Record, but I've no doubt the folks at the N&R will work out an equitable solution.

Posted by: Billy The Blogging Poet at July 14, 2005 08:01 AM

Billy's right; we're on it -- weighing various procedural and technical options, with a bias toward as free and open a discussion forum as possible.

Honestly, language doesn't bother me and I've always been able to hold my own in online debate even against trolls. In that sense, I'm kind of in the Ed Cone camp -- ignore 'em and they'll get bored and leave. But, of course, this isn't about me. We're trying to create the kind of online town square where even people who haven't had their hides toughened by a dozen years on Usenet can feel at home.

And we will. The trolls are an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one.

Posted by: Lex Alexander at July 14, 2005 10:04 AM


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