Over at Poynter's E-Media Tidbits, Amy's got a post that asks whether or not it's ever okay to print ad hominem attacks from a newspapers website...
This may seem like a no-brainer to those of us who've spent some time running around blogs and forums and message boards: the simple rule of thumb is that if the attack is anonymous, from a source totally and wholly unknown to the community, and there's absolutely no way to verify the i.d. of the person who made the comment, then it's a troll and just move along, don't give it any traction whatsoever.
Even if it's an anonymous poster who's know to the community, whether or not to print the comment should be contingent on the credibility and transparency of the author (Mark Glaser at Mediashift has an excellent post on the bloggers' view of transparency and credibility-even though most of the bloggers are high-level exec types ;-), still a very good read.)
In other words, if the person leaving the ad hominem comment is known to the group, maybe even known for that kind of thing, then that doesn't mean it should be printed. A credible ranter could be fun to the general community, but is that rant newsworthy? Further, continual ranting doesn't necessary equate with transparency either--perhaps in identifying the person in a certain way, but that's more a sense of being two-dimensional rather than transparent. Think of it this way: do quotes from Spider Man comics merit reprint on the editorial page? (I know, some of you might say *yes* but I'm talking in the formal news sense here...)
And what about verifying and asking the person to print the rant? Amy's piece doesn't give any indication as to whether or not the paper in question just plucked the stuff from the web or if they asked that it be used. If the paper did indeed ask, then it becomes a matter of why the paper would want to print this sort of thing in the first place.
Which leads me to wonder about how some newspapers view the stuff that comes into their web publications. Do they have someone monitoring their forums, blogs, etc. who might know the community? Do they have a policy regarding reprints of web based comments?--which they should. If there's a policy in place regarding letters to the editor, and if there is a policy, written or informal, about reprinting local gossip, then there should be some policy or understanding about reprinting screeds/rants/ and other web-based comments/bashes.
In my comment over at Poynter, I alluded to the perhaps-maybe possibility that this particular California newsroom in question is a bit confused about the concept of giving the people a voice. Giving people a voice, in most instances, means printing stuff that people are willing to sign their names to (unless it's super-hot and could hurt them in some way) and that will perhaps stimulate thought and conversation. Maybe the National enquirer and the Star make big bucks off printing stuff that is more whisper-down-the-lane than it is news, but what about when a local daily does this? Do they really think that the people in their area really want to read what amounts to a rotten tomato-throw from the rabble? And does someone in that newsroom perhaps think that the web is only about rabble-thrown rotten tomatoes?? Yes, I know that's being a bit rough on the average newsroom, but I've heard and read commentary to that effect from newspaper folk, which is troubling... (Michael Kinsley, who's been around a bit, seems to hold the opinion that anonymity is "supposed to be one of the signature qualities of the web"--guess he's been missing all the talk on credibility and transparency. )
Overall, there's no way to know exactly what every daily paper across the country thinks about commenters to its websites; but, the Califorina (Amy corrects: not California) reprints make me wonder how many other papers are either doing the same thing, or just, in general, not getting what's happening with communities on the web and think it's all about being anonymous and acting trollish. If that's the case, then I would begin to wonder what, exactly, they think of their web-based newspaper reading constiuency? Do they think the web readers are lesser than the print readers? And do they get that if they drop the ball on understanding some of the nuances of their web reading community, they may end up failing the entire community?
Journalism, citizen journalism, media, Blogging,