MaineToday Media Web Comments Suddenly Cut Off
If you can’t say something nice: Late on the afternoon of October 19, MaineToday Media CEO Richard Connor posted a notice on the Web sites of his three daily papers — the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel — announcing they would no longer accept online comments on stories.
“It took months of careful consideration and much deliberation to make this decision,” Connor wrote. “While it may be an unpopular decision with some, we made it because what once served as a platform for civil civic discourse and reader interaction has increasingly become a forum for vile, crude, insensitive, and vicious postings. No story subject seems safe from hurtful and vulgar comments.”
(In an odd twist, Connor’s statement had been removed from the Web site by the morning of October 20, leaving those who missed it to wonder what happened.)
“We have a right and an obligation to protect the public, our readers, and the subjects of our stories from such vitriol,” Connor added. “And because current technology and manpower prevent us from monitoring, scrutinizing and, frankly, sanitizing our comment sections 24 hours a day, seven days a week, this is the only way to do that.”
He also said the papers might consider restoring the comments section in the future.
Connor is certainly correct about the nature of a sizable number of postings on his sites. Even the most innocuous stories prompted hate-filled, ignorant rants from anonymous sources. On articles of a controversial nature, the rage and stupidity overflowed. If the purpose of a comments section is to advance and broaden the discussion, the MaineToday sites were failing miserably.
Of course, there are many ways to correct these kinds of problems short of shutting down all comments. Anyone wishing to comment could be required to register, providing a real name and e-mail address, even if they wish to use a pseudonym on their posts. Moderators could block the posting of any comments deemed to violate certain clearly stated standards. The posting of certain comments could be delayed until someone had a chance to review them. (All these methods are employed at Down East.com, which has kept the discussion civil, but has also reduced the number of comments, a shortcoming I find distressing.)
Trouble is, all these procedures require staff, and Connor appears not to be interested in spending money in that area.
There’s also the question of why these particular dailies are attracting so many ugly comments, when other publications — including Connor’s paper in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. — aren’t experiencing similar problems. It may be that the crazies migrate to certain sites in search of like-minded whackjobs, but it still seems unlikely that the Press Herald and its sister papers would capture this unwanted audience almost exclusively.
I received e-mail reactions to the new policy from a variety of political activists, both right- and left-wing. Without exception, they claimed the comment blockade was an attempt to muzzle their particular viewpoints because they differed from that of Connor’s editorial boards. Given the range of positions represented, this conspiracy theory seems unlikely. But given the variety of advocates affected by the shutdown, it does appear that this change could result in valid public debate being limited.
Connor should make it a priority to restore some sort of online forum as soon as possible.
Zoned out: According to the Bangor Daily News, WZON (620 AM), Stephen King’s all-sports station in Bangor, will soon be undergoing a format changed. The October 19 story by staff writer Andrew Neff says much of the sports programming will be replaced by “liberal-progressive” talk shows, such as those already airing on King’s FM station in Dover-Foxcroft, “The Pulse,” also known as WZON-FM (103.1).
Station officials aren’t commenting on the changeover, nor have they released a timetable for the new programming.
WZON adopted its sports format about seventeen years ago, but has recently faced challenges due to the loss of broadcasting rights to University of Maine games and from competition from syndicated sports programming on other stations. WZON finished tenth in the Bangor market in the spring Arbitron ratings, with an anemic 2.9 average quarter-hour share of the audience.
Math-addled: From a story by staff writer Steve Mistler in the October 20 Lewiston Sun Journal on a new voter survey in the gubernatorial race:
“The Pan Atlantic poll showed undecided voters at 20 percent, nearly one-third of those surveyed.”
Could you define “nearly?”
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.