Earlier this year, the Orange County Register started treating every one of its stories online as blog posts, allowing the riffraff readers of Orange County to post comments. The idea was to foster community discussion, but that discussion has at time ranged from disgusting to repugnant.
Staffers have demanded that management remove the comments feature on the Web site — 65 of them signed a petition (see below). But OCR Editor Ken Brusic told the journos to hang tight and allow the free market of ideas to correct itself.
Here’s his internal memo:
I share your concern about some of the outrageous comments that appear on our Website. You may have seen my response to our diversity committee.
We have had some wide-ranging conversations within our company about next steps. You should have already seen one very small step, the posting — on the site and in newspaper stories — of comment guidelines. We have several other ideas to clean up what amounts to graffiti on the site.
We saw last weekend both the good and bad at work within the comments. The Mission Viejo immigration story and the follow-up to the obese woman surprised by her pregnancy demonstrated how mean, petty and vicious some people could be. The comments on the fire in the eastern part of the county, however, showed the extraordinary value of free, unfettered discussion.
We would like the community to be responsible for policing the comments rather than us. We will find ways to make that responsibility explicit, backed by our own actions to make sure participants live by the rules. We are hampered by a relatively unsophisticated tool. We are working with corporate IT to make modifications; we are also shopping around for better technology.
So thank you for your concern and suggestions. We do want our work to foster useful community discussion and debate that allow people to make good civic decisions. And much of what appears on the site moves in that direction. We just need to develop ways to push out the obscene and hateful voices.
I’ll keep you informed of our progress. I know you’ll be watching.